"Final Discharge" in Ohio for the Purposes of Expungement


The term “final discharge” is not defined by statute. Per case law, however, an offender is not finally discharged for purposes of Ohio’s expungement statute, R.C. 2953.32(A)(1) until he has served any sentence previously imposed by the court. Put another way, a “final discharge” from conviction means a release from all obligations imposed and not just a release from confinement.

This definition does not apply to court costs, which are not part of the criminal sentence. Non-payment of court costs will not preclude an offender from filing for expungement.

Expungement Law Eligibility

“Eligible offender” means anyone who has been convicted of an offense in Ohio or any other jurisdiction and who has not more than one felony conviction, not more than two misdemeanor convictions, or not more than one felony conviction and one misdemeanor conviction in Ohio or any other jurisdiction. When two or more convictions result from or are connected with the same act or result from offenses committed at the same time, they are counted as one conviction.

An eligible offender – an offender who has been “finally discharged” from his conviction - must wait three years after his final discharge from a felony conviction to apply for expungement. An eligible offender must wait one year after his final discharge from a misdemeanor conviction to apply for expungement.

State v. Hoover

A good case to illustrate the “final discharge” rule is State v. Hoover, decided in 2013. In Hoover, the offender was found guilty of felony vehicular manslaughter. In 2003, the trial court sentenced the offender to five years of community control with sanctions, including restitution and the performance of 200 hours of community service. The trial court also suspended the offender’s driver’s license for life.

In 2012, the offender filed an application for expungement pursuant to R.C. 2953.32(A)(1). Over the State’s objection, the trial court sealed the records of the offender’s convictions, but did not seal the portion of the sentence that imposed a lifetime suspension of his driver’s license.

The State appealed the sealing of the records on the ground that the offender had not, nor will he ever be, finally discharged from his sentence. This is because his sentence included a lifetime driver’s license suspension, which, the state argued, qualifies as a criminal sanction.

According to the Appellate Court, a criminal sanction is distinguishable from a civil sanction for purposes of 2953.52(A)(1). Court costs are civil sanctions that do not invoke the “final discharge” rule. State v. Summers, 71 Ohio App.3d 1, 2 (8th Dist.1990)

The Appellate Court ultimately held that because Hoover’s sentence included a mandatory lifetime suspension of his driver’s license, he will never be able to complete that portion of his sentence and will, therefore, never receive a final discharge.

“The term “final discharge” is not defined by statute. Per case law, however, an offender is not finally discharged until he has served any sentence previously imposed by the court. See State v. Pettis, 133 Ohio App.3d 618, 619 (8th Dist.1999); Willowick v. Langford, 15 Ohio App.3d 33, 34 (11th Dist.1984); State v. Braun, 8th Dist. No. 46082 (July 7, 1983) (“[a] final discharge from conviction means a release from all obligations imposed and not just a release from confinement.”). For example, this court and others have repeatedly held that final discharge under the statute does not occur until court-ordered restitution has been satisfied. See State v. Jordan, 10th Dist. No. 07AP–584, 2007–Ohio–6383, 6; State v. Wainwright, 75 Ohio App.3d 793 (8th Dist.1991). But see State v. Summers, 71 Ohio App.3d 1, 2 (8th Dist.1990) (holding that court costs were not part of criminal sentence, and that non payment of those costs did not result in sentence not being served).” State v. Hoover, 2013 –Ohio- 3337 (10th Dist.2013).

An Example

Let’s say you stole a $200 jacket from Bloomingdales, sold the jacket, and spent the money. You were subsequently arrested, and after a trial, you were convicted of misdemeanor shoplifting. The judge sentenced you to: (1) three years of probation; (2) $200 restitution; (3) court costs; (4) no contact with Bloomingdale’s for one year; and (5) no related offenses for five years.

It’s been five years since your conviction. You’ve finished your three years of probation without a violation, paid the $200 restitution on the day of sentencing, have NOT paid the court costs, have never gone to Bloomingdale’s again, and have committed no related offenses.

Are you eligible to have your record expunged?

Not yet! Even though you’ve successfully completed probation, paid the victim’s restitution, not contacted Bloomingdale’s, and not committed any related offenses for five years, you still need to wait one more year in order to be eligible for expungement, since you were only “finally discharged” from your sentence after the “no related offenses for five years” passed. Remember, that payment of court costs do not apply to this calculation.

Conclusion

In order to be eligible for expungement, you must be “finally discharged” from your sentence. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor, one year must have passed since your “final discharge.” If you were convicted of a felony, three years must have passed since your “final discharge.” “Final discharge” means that you have served any and all sentences imposed by the judge. The only exception to this rule is court costs. You DO NOT have to have paid court costs in order to be eligible for expungement. The easiest way to find out if you are eligible for expungement is to take this free online eligibility check.

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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