Lizett Schreiber
June 18, 2024

What is the difference between an expungement and sealing of records?

An expungement or sealing of records is a process to help people who have been convicted of crimes to limit the collateral impact of those convictions. A person may deny that there is sufficient proof of their guilt or argue that something happened procedurally that was unfair in an appeal. An expungement or sealing of records, however, doesn’t deny the conviction but is a way to prevent the public from learning about a prior crime. This is based on the idea that after sufficient time and experience, people have been rehabilitated and should no longer suffer the consequences of a conviction.

In Ohio, the term “expungement” has historically been used interchangeably with the process of sealing a record. However, Ohio truly only offered sealing of records until April 2023, when the law changed to allow both true expungements AND sealing of records. What is the difference between an expungement and sealing, and which could you qualify for?

Sealing a case means that the public cannot access the criminal record. If you search for the case in a public database, it does not come up. However, the court still keeps a copy of the case (“sealed” in the clerk’s office) because those records can still be accessed for certain types of background checks. Sealing a record may not be enough to avoid reporting a prior conviction to a licensing board for a job in certain fields.

Expungement means the case record is permanently destroyed and irretrievable so court records can never be accessed. Expunged cases are considered to have never occurred. The only exception is that the Bureau of Criminal Identification keeps a record for the purposes of anyone applying to become a law enforcement agent.

Eligibility for Sealing or Expungement

Someone can apply for a sealing or expungement of criminal cases that were dismissed, or certain criminal convictions. Whether a conviction can be expunged or sealed depends on:

  1. If the offense is not disqualified under the law, and
  2. The length of time that has passed after all consequences have been completed after conviction. This is known as “final discharge.”

For example, if your conviction had a term of probation or community control, the “final discharge” would start after you have finished and been released from probation. If your entire sentence was served in jail or prison, and you did not have any probation, the time for eligibility, or “final discharge” would start after you were released.

Disqualified Offenses

The following case types are disqualified from expungement or sealing:

  • Commercial Driver’s License offenses
  • Driver’s license violations (such as driving with a suspended license)
  • Traffic offenses, including OVI/DUI
  • Felony offenses of violence (as listed in ORC 2901.01(A)(9))
  • Some sexually oriented offenses that require registration
  • Any case where the victim is under 13 (except for nonsupport)
  • Felonies of the first or second degree, or more than two third-degree felonies
  • Misdemeanor domestic violence or violations of a protection order
  • Threats against a family or household member cannot be expunged, but they can be sealed.

Time Periods for Sealing or Expunging

If your case type is not listed above, then you simply have to wait the required time period.


  • One or two felonies of the third degree → three years after final discharge
  • One or more fourth or fifth degree felonies → one year after final discharge
  • One or more misdemeanors → one year after final discharge
  • Minor misdemeanors → six months after final discharge
  • Certain sexually oriented offenses → five years after termination of registration requirements


  • Misdemeanors - one year after final discharge
  • Minor Misdemeanors - six months after final discharge
  • Felonies - ten years after the time the offense would be eligible to be sealed.

Special Provisions for Survivors of Human Trafficking

There is a special law in place for expungements for survivors of human trafficking. It is important to note that someone does not have to have been convicted of human trafficking in order for their victim to qualify for an expungement. A victim of human trafficking can apply to have convictions for offenses that occurred along with convictions for soliciting, loitering to engage in solicitation, or prostitution for expungement. They can also apply to expunge dismissals or findings of not guilty for any offense that is the result of human trafficking except for aggravated murder, murder, or rape. The court will then determine whether it is in the state’s interest to keep the record.


Sealing or expunging convictions can be an important way to restore your rights and access jobs, housing, and other opportunities. The requirements can be confusing and the process difficult to navigate. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Attorney Lizett Schreiber at ALH Law Group to see if your case is eligible, and for help applying.