Columbus offers some a cheaper option to seal criminal records

Two hundred indigent defendants now have a less-expensive way to seal their criminal records from hundreds of background-check databases.

The Expedited Record Service Program, a pilot program through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, allows eligible offenders to request that their records be sealed, not only through court public records, but also through an independent contractor that works with 600 third-party companies to remove the records from background-check databases.

An eligible offender is someone who does not have more than one felony conviction, two misdemeanor convictions or one felony and one misdemeanor convictions. There are some exceptions to that, however. Drunken-driving and domestic violence convictions cannot be sealed, for example, regardless of the number of prior convictions. But ultimately, the decision rests with a judge, Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk Lori Tyack said.

After the program began in January, Tyack said she quickly realized certain people were missing out on the opportunity. She reached out to Columbus City Council to provide funding for the program for those who could not afford the $45 application fee, which cannot be waived but is returned to the applicant if denied.

“Giving individuals, typically those who are already struggling financially because they cannot find a job or adequate housing, an opportunity to have that mistake scrubbed … gives them a second chance at life,” Councilwoman Jaiza Page said.

Page sponsored the council ordinance to set aside $9,000 for the Municipal Court Clerk. Between the filing fee and application fee, an application to seal criminal records costs $95. Funds are currently available to cover the $45 application fee for 200 applicants. The $50 nonrefundable filing fee must still be paid by the applicant.

To date, 118 people filed applications through the program, 29 of which were granted and three of which were denied. The remaining applicants have future hearing dates scheduled. So far, none of the applicants has requested to use the fund since money was not allocated until the ordinance approved this month.

In 2017, Franklin County Municipal Court had about 2,000 applicants seeking to seal criminal records. Tyack took 10 percent of that figure to provide 200 applicants with the opportunity for funding to participate in the pilot program. To be eligible for the fund, the court must rule the applicant to be indigent. From there, the first 200 people to apply will receive funding. If an applicant is denied, the money will return to the fund for another person to apply.

“Many of those individuals are indigent and need assistance,” Tyack said. “Many are homeless and have bad credit. I felt very strongly if council worked with me to provide at least 200 people the opportunity to participate, it would benefit more people.”

The pilot program will be re-evaluated by the Ohio Attorney General’s office Oct. 1.

“Whether it was community service or probation or whatever that punishment was, once that has been served and you have turned your life around and are making the right choices, I believe we should help those people with a second chance,” Page said.

Originally published for The Columbus Dispatch on May 31, 2018.

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