A criminal record can carry lasting consequences long after a person has paid their debt to society, creating barriers to employment, housing, and education.  But all hope is not lost. The law provides a remedy for those who have turned their lives around, permitting the “expungement” or “sealing” of certain criminal records.  While the terms expungement and sealing are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to two different processes under Ohio laws. Each process has certain criteria that an applicant must meet to qualify.


Expungement refers to the destruction, deletion, and erasing of a record so that it is permanently irretrievable.  Under Ohio law, only certain types of records may be permanently destroyed. Those include:

  • Juvenile convictions/adjudications (Ohio Revised Code §2151.358)
  • Certain convictions relating to firearms (Ohio Revised Code §2953.37)
  • Certain convictions for victims of human trafficking (Ohio Revised Code §2953.38)

Upon application to the court of conviction, a hearing will be set to determine whether or not to grant the request. At that hearing the court will determine whether the applicant is eligible to have the record expunged, and weigh the interests of expunging the record against the need to maintain a public record of the conviction.

Sealing of Record

For the vast majority of criminal records, Ohio law only permits an applicant to seal the record. Sealing refers to an order issued by a court prohibiting the public disclosure of electronic or paper records related to a particular criminal proceeding.  While a sealed record is not permanently destroyed, the contents are filed in a separate, secured location.  Only certain government agencies and employers can have access to sealed records in a limited number of circumstances.

The process to have one’s criminal record sealed requires a multi-step approach. Not every individual qualifies as an “eligible offender,” and not every type of criminal conviction can be sealed. 

Ohio Revised Code §2953.31 creates two classes of eligible offenders:

  • Class 1 – Anyone that has been convicted of one or more offenses, but not more than 5 felonies, so long as none of the offenses are greater than a felony of the 4th degree or include a felony sex offense or offense of violence.
  • Class 2 – Those individuals who do not qualify under class one, but have no more than two misdemeanor convictions OR one misdemeanor and one felony on their record.

Ohio Revised Code §2953.36 excludes certain convictions from eligibility to seal:

  • Convictions which carried a mandatory prison sentence;
  • Convictions for felonies of the 1st or 2nd degree;
  • Offenses of violence that are classified as a felony or misdemeanor of the 1st degree (with limited exceptions);
  • A 1st degree misdemeanor or any felony offense where the victim of the offense was under 18 years of age; and
  • Most sex offenses 

Ohio Revised Code §2953.32 requires certain waiting periods before a person may apply:

  • For a misdemeanor offense, one year from the date of final discharge. 
  • For a felony offense, three years from the date of final discharge.
  • For a person whose record contains 2 felony convictions, four years from the date each felony was discharged.
  • For a person with 3-5 felony convictions, five years from the date each felony was discharged.

When applying to have a record sealed, the application must be filed in the court where the conviction occurred. If you have convictions in multiple courts, then multiple applications will be required. A hearing date will be set to determine whether to grant or deny the request. As is the case with expungement, it is up the court to determine whether or not an individual has been sufficiently rehabilitated and whether it would be in the interests of justice to seal a record conviction.

The laws related to expungement and sealing are constantly changing. Before applying to a court to seal or expunge a criminal conviction, a thorough examination of a person’s record is necessary. The attorneys at Dworken & Bernstein are experienced in such matters, and can help in navigating the statutory requirements to determine your eligibility, carve out exceptions, and advocate to the court on your behalf to maximize the chances of success.    

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