Sealing Criminal Records
| Sealing your criminal record can make it easier to apply for housing, a job or school.
A criminal record can make it difficult to find a job or housing. Part of our office's efforts to promote safer communities is allowing low-level and first-time offenders opportunities to better their lives and find alternatives to crime. The Prosecutor's Office has a team of assistant prosecuting attorneys who review applications for sealing (often called "expungement") of records of eligible offenders.
If you have a criminal record -- either convictions or non-convictions (such as a dismissed case or one in which you were found not guilty) -- you may be eligible to have your record sealed.
We have provided the information below to assist you in understanding the process of sealing adult criminal records. Because our office reviews these applications and makes recommendations to the courts, we cannot assist you with applying to have your record sealed. However, we have listed other agencies and resources that can help you through this process. Please do not contact our office to request help with an expungement application.
Please also note that our office only handles requests to seal records that originated in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The information below is for adult criminal charges and convictions.
Sealing Criminal Records
What is expungement? What does it mean when a record is sealed?
In Ohio, adult criminal records are not actually "expunged" (completely removed, destroyed or erased). Instead, Ohio law allows courts to allow certain criminal records to be sealed. This means that any electronic or paper records of your criminal charges are kept separate and secure.
Most employers and landlords are not able to see any sealed criminal records, though there are exceptions for certain types of jobs (such as law enforcement, jobs working with children/the elderly, and state professional licensing boards).
If there are future criminal investigations involving you, prosecutors, judges and police can still access sealed records.
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Why should I get my record sealed?
Even if you are not convicted of a crime, it can be helpful to get your criminal record sealed. In most cases, sealed records will not appear on background checks. This means it may be easier for you to apply for a job or license, get housing, apply to school or apply for credit. If your record is sealed, you can honestly answer on applications that the sealed record does not exist.
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What records are eligible for sealing?
The Ohio Revised Code section 2953.31 defines eligibility requirements for sealing of criminal records. In general, you must meet the following criteria:
Types of criminal records
You can request to have certain convictions sealed, as described below. You can also have non-convictions sealed. These include cases that were dismissed or nolled, cases that a Grand Jury "no-billed" (voted not to send to trial), or cases in which you were found not guilty. You can also have arrest records sealed.
Eligibility Guidelines for Convictions
Number of convictions
You may not have more than two misdemeanor convictions, or one misdemeanor and one felony conviction.
What convictions are counted toward the total number of convictions?
- Convictions of any age are counted. (For example, a conviction from 30 years ago is still counted.)
- Convictions from anywhere in the U.S. are counted.
- Minor misdemeanors are not counted. (These are "citation" offenses less than a fourth-degree misdemeanor.) There is no limit on the number of minor misdemeanors you can have sealed.
- If two or more convictions are based on the same criminal incident, they are counted as one conviction. (For example, if you were convicted of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in the same incident, the courts will consider this one conviction.)
- If you were convicted of two or three charges at the same hearing, and those convictions are from related criminal acts that occurred within a three-month period, they may or may not be counted as one conviction, at the court's discretion.
What types of offenses are NOT eligible?
No matter the number of convictions, certain offenses are prohibited from being sealed by state law. These include:
- First and second degree (F1 and F2) felonies.
- Any violent offenses, including homicide, assault, menacing, kidnapping, rape, sexual battery, robbery and intimidation. A full list of violent offenses is available in the Ohio Revised Code section 2901.01(A)(9).
- Any sexual offenses not already listed, including unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, any pandering involving a minor and importuning.
- Automobile offenses involving tampering, driving under the influence (DUI or OVI), driving under suspension related to DUI or breathalyzer refusal, street racing, and hit-and-run incidents.
- Traffic offenses cannot be sealed but are not counted as criminal convictions.
When are convictions eligible to be sealed?
You may not have any pending criminal charges against you when you apply to have a record sealed. All criminal cases against you must be fully discharged, which means:
- You must have completed any jail or prison sentence
- You must have paid any courts costs you were ordered to pay
- You must have paid any restitution you were ordered to pay
- You must have completed any parole or probation you were ordered to serve
For misdemeanor convictions, you must wait one year after full discharge to apply to have a record sealed. For felony convictions, you must wait three years before applying.
Eligibility and Guidelines for Non-Convictions
In cases that were dismissed, or in which you were found not guilty:
If all charges against you were dismissed, you can apply for the record to be sealed.
If you were convicted on some of the charges, but found not guilty on other charges (or other charges were dismissed), all from the same incident, you cannot get the dismissed charges sealed unless the convictions are also eligible to be sealed.
In cases that were "No-Billed" by a Grand Jury:
You must wait two years from the date of the No Bill to apply. (Prosecutors have two years to re-file charges.)
Sealing arrest records:
If you were arrested and no formal charges were filed, you must check with the police department that arrested you to determine how to request that your arrest record be sealed.
You may not have any pending criminal charges against you to apply to have any non-convictions sealed.
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How to Apply
Please remember: The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office cannot assist you in applying to have your record sealed beyond the information provided here. Please do not contact our office unless you have received a response to your application and have a question about that response. Below is a list of agencies and resources that may be able to assist you in completing an application.
Getting help with the application
You do not need an attorney to file your application for you; you may do it yourself. However, if you need help, you should contact an attorney. In Cuyahoga County, you can contact the following agencies to request assistance in submitting an application to have your record sealed:
For non-convictions and misdemeanors: The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
This non-profit organization provides workshops for citizens and trainings for attorneys regarding the sealing of records. Visit their website at www.lasclev.org or call (888) 817-3777 or (216) 687-1900.
For felony convictions: Cuyahoga County Office of the Public Defender
This county office provides legal services to indigent adults and juveniles who have been charged with crimes. Visit the office's website at www.publicdefender.cuyahogacounty.us or call (216) 443-7223.
The Application Process
File the application with the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. You can get the application by accessing the Cuyahoga County Public Defender's website. There are separate application forms depending on the type of record you wish to be sealed (conviction, no-bill, arrest, etc.) The application fee is $50. If you cannot afford it, you must submit an affidavit of indigence along with your application. The affidavit of indigence is available on the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts website. Submit your completed application to the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts.
**Please note: The Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts will send you notification if your record is sealed. Upon submitting your application, you should contact the clerk to ensure that your address is up to date in their files.**
Once the court receives your application, it will direct the Cuyahoga County Probation Department to interview you and complete an Expungement Investigation Report. This report is sent to our office, where attorneys will review it for eligibility. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office may either file an objection to your Application for Sealing of Records, which means that we have determined you are not eligible to have your record sealed, or file a "No Objection Letter," which means that we have determined that you meet the requirements to have your record sealed. Both the court and you will receive the filing from our office.
Once this occurs, a hearing will be scheduled to review your request. A judge has the final decision of whether to seal your record.
If the judge decides to seal your record, a certified court order will go out to any agencies that have your arrest or conviction record to seal them. You will also receive a copy of the order.
After your record is sealed
After your record is sealed, it will be kept in a separate file but will not be permanently deleted. Remember: Law enforcement, government officials and agencies will be able to access your record if they need it as part of new criminal investigations. Also, certain employers, including law enforcement, health care, day care, school, and financial institutions can see sealed records.
Commercial background check companies also have been known to mistakenly disclose sealed criminal records to employers. If this happens to you, contact the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland or the Ohio Justice and Policy Center for help.
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