COLUMBUS — Two state senators introduced a bi-partisan bill this week that would offer the eventual expungement of criminal records for certain felony offenders.
Senate Bill 160, introduced by Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, and Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, would offer expungement of most convictions that, depending on the category of the offense, are at least 10 to 20 years old, according to the bill. It would also eliminate the waiting period for sealing a record related to a no bill — cases in which a grand jury did not indict a person.
Any person who has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to any misdemeanor or felony that is not an excluded offense could apply to the sentencing court for expungement of the record, the bill states. They could only apply if they have not been convicted of any further offenses.
Crimes excluded from expungement would include murder, voluntary manslaughter, child abuse, patient abuse, kidnapping, human trafficking, terrorism, domestic violence and any sexually based offense.
Those eligible for expungement under the bill could apply after 20 years for a first-degree felony, 15 years for a second-degree felony or 10 years for third-, fourth- or fifth-degree felonies.
O’Brien said many people make one bad decision during young adulthood and, as a result, have dealt with long-term consequences like the inability to get certain jobs or public benefits.
“This bill gives a second chance to folks who made a stupid decision many years ago, but have otherwise lived honest, law-abiding lives,” he said.
Rulli said it is not a partisan issue, but rather about “allowing people to advance their lives with dignity.”
“I am glad to work with Sen. O’Brien on this and other legislation concerning criminal justice issues,” Rulli said. “People should have the opportunity to try again, make right on their wrongs and be active participants in the workforce. This type of legislation is how we bring people out of the shadows and back into their communities.”
The bill, which has been referred to committee, would allow prosecutors to object to an application for expungement and would require a judge to consider the offender’s conduct since their last conviction.
A number of prosecutors across the state are opposed to the proposed legislation, Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci said, adding he has not yet had time to examine the bill in detail.
“I’m happy there are exceptions for some serious crimes, but besides those exceptions there are serious crimes that include first-, second- and third-degree felonies that should not be expunged,” he said.
Iarocci acknowledged that criminal convictions can have a negative effect on a person’s life after a conviction and rehabilitation. While prosecutors must have compassion for those they prosecute, they must also weigh the possibility of expungement against public safety concerns, he said.
Prosecutors always need to have the ability to object and judges always need the ability to decide on expungements on a case-by-case basis, Iarocci said.
“While somebody may not have been convicted of another crime for a long period of time that doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t ever again,” he said. “We have to be very careful in expunging people’s criminal records.”
Marie Lane, director of the Ashtabula County Public Defender’s Office, said she supports the bill as it pertains to felonies of the first and second degree.
Current Ohio law excludes first- and second-degree felonies from expungements, regardless of the nature and circumstances of the offenses, Lane said.
“Many citizens who made mistakes in their late teens and early twenties, and then paid their debt to society and moved on to live exemplary and law-abiding lives, find themselves in their 40s and 50s being denied superior employment opportunities because of an old conviction,” she said. “That’s not fair.”
Felony convictions carry severe collateral consequences, Lane said, and offenders who have done what the justice system has asked of them should be provided the opportunity to be relieved of these consequences.
However, Lane said she is opposed to the bill’s expansion of the expungement period for the lower level felonies from the current three years to 10 years.
“This is absolutely a step backwards,” she said. “This would require a nonviolent offender who successfully completed probation, which is the presumptive sentence, to now wait an additional seven years before the conviction can be removed. It makes no sense.”