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Bill expands record expungement opportunities

Special to the Legal News

Published: August 5, 2019

A bipartisan bill penned by a pair of northeast Ohio lawmakers has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of Ohioans who have felony convictions.

This is just one more way in which lawmakers can transform an outdated criminal justice system, Sen. Sean O'Brien, D-Cortland, told members of the Judiciary Committee in the Ohio Senate.

O'Brien, alongside Republican Sen. Michael Rulli of Salem, has proposed a mechanism for the expungement of records of most convictions that, depending on the category of the offense, are at least 10, 15 or 20 years old.

"While the current system of limiting the options for criminal offenders to participate in certain sectors of society is laudably intended to protect people, this system seriously disadvantages those who, at one point, made a bad decision but have lived otherwise honest, law-abiding lives," O'Brien said. "To be sure, many of us have heard from constituents who, at age 19 or 20, did something stupid and were convicted but, despite no further missteps, must deal with consequences such as the inability to get particular jobs or attain certain public benefits for the rest of their lives."

Filed as Senate Bill 160, the measure would allow prosecutors to object to an application for expungement and would require a judge to consider the entirety of an offender's conduct since his last conviction.

Excluded from eligibility are charges of murder, voluntary manslaughter, child abuse, patient abuse, kidnapping, human trafficking, terrorism, domestic violence and any sexually-based offense.

The status quo has a tendency to lead to an untold number of other difficulties, hindering an individual's ability to fully reform and lead a successful life, the lawmakers noted.

According to analysis of the bill by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, an application under the bill's mechanism must do all of the following:

Identify the applicant, the subject offense, the date of the conviction of that offense, and the court in which the conviction occurred;

Describe the evidence and provide copies of any documentation showing that the person is entitled to relief under the mechanism for the subject offense;

Include an assertion by the offender that, during the period commencing with the offender's final discharge for the subject offense and continuing until the offender's making of the application, the offender has not been convicted of any disqualifying offense; and

Include a request for expungement under the mechanism of the conviction record of the subject offense.

Another provision of SB 160 would eliminate the two-year waiting period for sealing a record related to the entry of a no bill.

"With alarming regularity, the lives of Ohioans who made one bad decision in their youth are being disrupted long into old age," Rulli said. "The time to give reformed offenders a second chance at a productive, stigma-free life is now ."

In the instance the court denies an application for expungement, the denial is considered a final appealable order and the applicant may appeal the denial to the court of appeals with jurisdiction over the territory of the court that denied the application.

SB 160, which had not been scheduled a second hearing at time of publication, has garnered co-sponsor support from eight fellow senators.

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