Crime and Traffic

How to seal a criminal record

Criminal records can create barriers in everyday life. Your record can make things like renting an apartment or finding a job difficult. Sealing your criminal record can help you move forward with fewer barriers. Learn more about eligibility and how to seal a criminal record in Ohio.

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Understanding the Basics

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In Ohio, if you are experiencing problems related to a criminal record, you may be able to have that record "sealed."

Who can see sealed criminal records

Sealing a record makes it private so most employers and landlords can not see it. If your record is sealed, you legally can say that you have no criminal record on job applications.

However, a sealed record still exists: The record is not erased or deleted.

A sealed record can be seen by employers, officials and agencies if you:

  • Apply for certain types of jobs or professional licenses. If you apply for certain jobs (like law enforcement or childcare) or licenses (like accounting or dental), the employer or licensing board can see your sealed records.
  • Are a suspect in a new criminal investigation. Prosecutors, judges and police can see sealed records.

NOTE:  If your sealed record is shared by a commercial background-checking company, contact your local legal aid for help.

Sealing vs. expungement

Sealing is different than expungement. Expunged records are more private than sealed records. In Ohio, expungement is only available for survivors of human trafficking with criminal records related to the trafficking, for certain juvenile records and for certain firearms convictions. For more information on expungement in Ohio, see the Ohio Justice and Policy Center's criminal records manual. 

Eligibility for sealing

Your eligibility for record sealing is based on your entire criminal record, which includes convictions from anywhere in the US. If you have any pending charges against you, you are not eligible for sealing.

Before you can seal a charge, you must have the detailed information from your criminal court records. Read more about how to look-up and read all of your criminal records in Ohio.

In April 2021, a new law in Ohio expanded eligibility for record sealing. If you weren't eligible in the past, you may be eligible under the new law.

You may be eligible for sealing, in general, if you have only misdemeanors or lower-level felonies (of the fourth or fifth degree) and none are violent offenses or sexual felonies. You may also be eligible for sealing if you have more serious convictions, but you have two or fewer felonies or multiple convictions from the same incident.

You also must wait a certain amount of time after a case's "final discharge." Final discharge means you finished serving any jail or prison sentence, any term of probation, PRC, or parole and paid any fines. Court costs, however, are not part of your sentence and do not automatically disqualify you. Courts may consider unpaid court costs as another factor in their decision-making.

To see if your convictions are eligible for sealing, take our sealing eligibility interview. 

Help sealing your record

If you have many charges, or if your charges are in multiple jurisdictions, figuring out if you're eligible to seal your record, and going through the sealing process, can be complicated. To get help, contact your local legal aid.

Completing the application

If you are eligible to seal your records, you will need to get the sealing application forms from the court where you were charged. Check the court's website for the forms, or call the Clerk of Court's office to ask where you can find them.

The court may have different packets to seal convictions and non-convictions, so make sure that you're filling out the right ones. Ask the court how many copies of the form they want you to file, and make at least one extra copy of the form so you can keep one for your records.

Carefully read the form and any instructions. Some courts require you to "serve," or send the forms to the prosecutor's office. Some courts will serve the prosecutor's office for you. Read the form carefully and complete all the steps included on the form.  

Take the completed form to the Clerk's office at the court where the charge was filed. 

When you apply to seal a conviction, you will be charged a filing fee. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you can use the "Poverty Affidavit" form to request to file without paying the fee upfront. There is never a fee to seal a record of not guilty, dismissed or "no bill" charges.

Attend the hearing

After you file your application, the court will schedule a hearing date. You must go to your sealing hearing.

The court will notify the prosecutor's office that you applied for sealing and a hearing is scheduled. The prosecutor's office may file a response arguing against sealing your record. If you get notification from the court that the prosecutor has filed a response, it does not automatically mean that your case will not be sealed.

You must attend the hearing, where you and the prosecutor will present your sides. The judge or magistrate will make the final decision about sealing your record after listening to both you and the prosecutor. Learn more about how to prepare for a hearing here.

At the hearing, explain how your criminal record is hurting you. Examples of common problems your record might be giving you include making it hard to find a job or to find a place to live.

The judge has to decide whether you have been rehabilitated before sealing your record. If the prosecutor objects, the judge will also consider whether it is in the public interest for your record to be sealed. So, be prepared for the judge to ask you what you have been doing since you were charged or convicted and why you want your record sealed.

Show the judge that you have made changes in your life since your conviction. Give as many specific examples as you can. For instance, if you were convicted of a drug-related crime, you can mention if you have received any substance abuse treatment since your conviction or if you are involved with a substance abuse support group.

After the hearing

If the judge denies your application and you do not understand why, you may want to speak with a lawyer. 

If the judge approves your application, it can take at least six weeks for the court, police and other agencies to seal the record.

Talking to a lawyer

Many legal aids in Ohio offer record sealing clinics where you can talk to a pro bono lawyer about your charges and how to apply for sealing.

If your criminal record is keeping you from getting a professional certification (for example, people with certain convictions cannot obtain certain medical certifications in Ohio) legal aid may also be able to help you obtain a Certificate for Qualification of Employment (CQE). Read more about CQEs here.

The Ohio Justice and Policy Center also offer clinics and provides detailed information on sealing and other ways to overcome problems caused by criminal records on their website. These include options for survivors of human trafficking, people with juvenile records, CQEs and Governor's pardons.

If you'd like to discuss your sealing case or other issue related to your criminal record with a lawyer, see the legal aid and private bar association contact information under "Legal Help and Lawyers."

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