Expunging or Sealing Your Criminal Record
When someone has criminal charges filed against them, documents are created that can be accessed by the public. A criminal record is any criminal history compiled by state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies. By expunging or sealing a criminal record, the official information about the crime will be removed from “public view,” and with some limited exceptions, will not be available to employers.
Regardless of the outcome, it is best to have the court close the file so that it is no longer accessible to the public, including possible employers. The process which you use depends on whether you were convicted of the charge(s).
NOTE: If you were convicted of a minor misdemeanor for possession of marijuana, you should expunge it as soon as possible, because it makes you ineligible for federally subsidized student loans.
What’s the difference between expunging and sealing my record?
Sealing is for when your case was dismissed. If your case was dismissed, you can ask the court to seal your record as soon as your case is concluded. Keep in mind that if you went through the diversion program , your case is automatically sealed for you after you complete the program. For a non diversion dismissal you must go through the process of filing a petition to the court and paying a fee, as discussed below.
Expungement is for when you were convicted. ALL minor misdemeanors can be expunged. For any other classification of misdemeanor, only ONE such conviction can ever be expunged. However, certain convictions, like a OVI can never be expunged. You must wait ONE YEAR after the conviction before filing your petition for expungement. One year means a year after all requirements of your case have been taken care of. If you had your court date in August, but you didn’t finish making payments on your court fees until November, you can apply for expungement one year from the date you finished paying off your court fees.
What does expunging or sealing my record actually do?
Sealing: You have a RIGHT to have your record sealed when your case is dismissed or you are found not guilty. Once it is sealed, and you have the right to deny for purposes of licensure or employment that you were ever arrested on that charge. The effect of sealing is that, under the law, the arrest never existed.
Expungement: The effect of expungement is more complicated than sealing. When a conviction is expunged, it is removed from public access, but certain law enforcement or education agencies may be able to get access to the record. Also, the law provides that a person may be questioned about an expunged conviction if “the question bears a direct and substantial relationship to the position for which the person is being considered.” This usually applies to teaching licenses, working with the elderly or jobs which require security such as law enforcement. Sometimes, the nature of the conviction can result in a need to have it disclosed, such as child abuse.
If I expunged or sealed my record, what do I put on job applications when they ask if I’ve ever been charged with a crime?
If your case was dismissed and your record has been sealed, you have the right to say “NO” to this question.
If you were convicted of a crime and your record was expunged, normally you may say no unless the conviction requires disclosure.
How do I get my record sealed or expunged?
For both processes, you must file a petition to the court. The cost to file a petition to seal is $20.00 and the cost to file a petition to expunge is $50.00 (as of 2011). If you are a student, we will help you fill out the petition and file it for you in court. If you are no longer a student or you are not currently at Ohio University, we can send you the petition with complete instructions and you can send it back to us with the filing fee. We will file it in court for you.
When you sign the petition in front of a notary (or one of our attorneys who is also a notary), you swear that you have no other convictions, and that you have no criminal charges pending.
Visit our downloads section to get expungement and sealing forms along with instructions on how to fill them out and submit them.
What happens after I submit a request to have my record sealed or expunged?
After submitting your documents and paying the required fee, you wait for the judge to sign the Order sealing the record. This will take about 4-6 weeks (less for sealing dismissal cases). The Center for Student Legal Services has no control over the amount of time it takes for the court to process your expungement or sealing. Athens County Municipal Court will then take your criminal record off of their database and send a certified copy of the Order to any agency involved in your case (i.e. the police, liquor control, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation) so they can remove it from their records as well.
In about 4-6 weeks, you will get a packet in the mail from The Center for Student Legal Services containing four copies of your certified expungement or sealing Order, a list of all agencies that received copies of your Order, copies of your original charges and a copy of the sealing or expungement petition. KEEP this for your records. If you know of any agency involved in your case that was not sent a copy of your expungement or sealing Order, send them one of your certified copies.
Soon after you receive the packet, you will receive a certified copy of the disposition of your case. You can keep this document to show what you were actually convicted of, just in case your arrest record is found by a potential employer and you are questioned about it. You can use it to show you were arrested for something but you may not have been convicted of that charge. (For example, you may have been charged for possession of marijuana, but your charged was reduced and you were convicted of disorderly conduct). See section: “an important note about the difference between charges and convictions and how they affect your expungement” link on this page.
Please direct any questions about your pending expungement or sealing to our Office Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can potential employers or others still find my criminal record?
Employers who are able to get access to an applicant’s criminal record may legally use that information for hiring decisions provided that they are able to show a legitimate “business necessity” for doing so. In other words, consideration of the criminal history must be reasonably related to the requirements of the job. For instance, a bank would be well within its right to deny employment to an applicant with a criminal history that includes theft if that individual would be working with money. The nature of some convictions require disclosure, such as child abuse.
Prior to accessing an applicant’s criminal record, the employer must give notice to the applicant and seek the applicant’s permission to use the criminal record. If a criminal record is used by the employer, the employer must provide the applicant with a copy and a summary of the applicant’s rights. The use of background checks is subject to standards set forth by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
What if I Google myself and my criminal record still shows up on a website?
If a private search engine has already obtained information from your court file, expunging or sealing your file may not prevent an employer from finding your criminal record. Once the judge orders your official court expunged or sealed we can request the internet site to remove it under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, but that may be a complicated procedure.
Also, agencies that were involved in your case are often behind in removing criminal records from their database. BCI (Bureau of Criminal Investigation) is often about six months behind on removing criminal records. This can result in your criminal record showing up on their website when you search your name on a search engine. If you have a compelling reason for your name to be removed from their website immediately, contact us and we will try to help you get the process expedited.
We do recommend that you conduct a web search after you get your official documents of expungement or sealing.
An important note about the difference between charges and convictions and how they affect your expungement.
When your record is sealed or expunged, there are certain circumstances where potential employers can still see your criminal background, as discussed above. Sometimes criminal background searches can reveal what you were CHARGED with, not what you were ultimately CONVICTED of. For example, you may have been charged with possession of marijuana, but your charge was amended and you were only convicted of disorderly conduct. If a potential employer runs a background check and brings the marijuana charges to your attention, you can dispute their findings by proving that you were not actually convicted of that charge. Soon after you receive your expungement in the mail, you will receive a certified copy of the final outcome of your case. Only YOU and The Center for Student Legal Services have copies of this paperwork. When you receive it, KEEP it, and if you are ever faced with this situation you can show the certified copy of your case disposition to prove that you were not actually convicted of your original charge(s).