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What Ohio Courts Look at When Considering Expungement

State v. Mastin
Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third Appellate District, Auglaize County
November 20, 1992

Holding: A court may consider a petitioner’s record, the nature of his offense, the trial court’s observations, petitioner’s rehabilitation, and his or her reason for record sealing or expungement when determining whether there is a legitimate governmental need to maintain the records which outweighs the interest of the applicant in having his or her record expunged or sealed.

Why This Case is Important: R.C. 2953.32 establishes the requirements for expunging or sealing a record of conviction in Ohio. The statute requires petitioners to be first time offenders with no pending criminal proceedings. Furthermore, section 2953.32(C) states there should be no legitimate governmental need to maintain the records that outweighs the interest of the applicant in having his record expunged.

This case addresses how courts weigh the interests of the government versus the interests of the applicant. The court has great discretion in weighing whether a petitioner’s records should be sealed or expunged. It will consider several factors in making the determination. Among these factors are:

  1. The nature of the offense
  2. The petitioner’s record
  3. The trial court’s observations
  4. The legitimate governmental interest
  5. Petitioner’s danger to society
  6. Petitioner’s rehabilitation
  7. The petitioner’s reasons for seeking expungement or sealing

No single factor is outcome determinative. A court may properly exercise its discretion by giving more weight to the government’s interest and less weight to the petitioner’s rehabilitation. However, a court may not deny expungement or record sealing solely on the grounds that it would be in the “interests of society” to deny the application. The court must consider all evidence and circumstances surrounding a petitioner’s application. It is only after considering all the evidence that courts have the discretion to grant or deny an application for record sealing or expungement.

Facts of This Case: In 1987, the petitioner in this case pled guilty to one count of attempted sexual battery for having sex with a seventeen year old girl on his track team. In 1991, the petitioner filed an application for sealing of conviction pursuant to R.C. 2953.32. The petitioner set forth in his application that he was a first time offender and that there were no pending criminal proceedings against him. Furthermore, no objections were filed by the prosecutor. The trial court, however, denied the application. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

The court of appeals determined that R.C. 2953.32 gives the court the discretionary authority to deny expungement or sealing requests. Specifically, the noted the language of R.C. 2953.32(C), which states there should be no legitimate governmental need to maintain the records that outweighs the interest of the applicant in having his record expunged or sealed.

The court of appeals stated that the trial court properly exercised its discretion when the trial court weighed the nature of the offense, the petitioner’s record, and petitioner’s danger to society, rehabilitation and reason for sealing his records. The court examined the trial court’s findings: the petitioner’s offensive acts were committed more than once over a span of time, petitioner was in a position of authority, and the government had a legitimate interest in protecting the student population. The court of appeals determined that it was proper to conclude that the weight of the evidence bore against record sealing.

As such, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision and ordered that the petitioner’s application be denied.

Key Language: The trial court considered other factors in determining a legitimate government need in denying the application. The trial court in denying appellant’s application weighed the record, which reflected the nature of the offense […] the court weighed the evidence in considering rehabilitation, the danger to society, and the demeanor and motive of the applicant.

Based upon the trial court’s observation, the record of appellant, and the facts and circumstances of the offense, the judgment of the trial court was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Expert Advise: “Not everyone is entitled to criminal record expungement or sealing. An applicant must not only be a first-time offender, but must also establish that the government’s interests do not weigh the interest for record sealing or expungement. This case provides a foundation for assessing whether an applicant can successfully petition for conviction record sealing. Analogizing the facts of a given case to the facts of this case can allow applicants to strengthen their application for expungement.” Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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

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