“We continue to find it extremely helpful,” said Steve Sturgill, executive director of the Community Action Organization of Scioto County, adding that when possible, having a criminal record sealed can greatly increase a person’s chances for gainful employment.
Community Action offers numerous upon numerous community services but one of their main activities is helping folks find jobs and/or job training. Sturgill talked about how some employers won’t even consider someone with a record for insurance reasons. Having a clean record seems especially important if one hopes to work in virtually any medical field.
According to Sturgill and others, Ohio law recently changed allowing former felons who have paid whatever debt they might have owed to society to tuck away more criminal charges. With that in mind, Community Action held a well-attended workshop on sealing criminal records at the Scioto County Welcome Center on Wednesday.
Tom Cardosi is an attorney with Southeast Ohio Legal Services which offers free legal help to persons with financial challenges. Cardosi and several other SEOLS attorneys were on hand at the Welcome Center to help those who needed legal help with sealing criminal records.
Cardosi said the new rules didn’t change the types of felonies persons can have sealed. However, it did change the number of felonies a person can have sealed and according to another attorney present altered how judges can count the number of felonies stacked up against a person. Several charges stemming from one incident possibly could be counted as one conviction and therefore become more readily sealable.
Cardosi added since the law is still a new one, there is a waiting period before records are permanently sealed and some questions regarding the new rules have yet to be answered. Still, Cardosi said the sealing of records is not a new procedure and is something with which clerks and judges are already familiar.
So, according to information supplied by Community Action, what types of offenses can be sealed? The list includes any dismissed charges or non-convictions, all misdemeanor offenses and up to five felony convictions. In the latter two instances, a judge must decide if a person is eligible to have records sealed.
Even with the new law, some offenses cannot be sealed. Those include any offenses which carried a mandatory prison term, any first- or second-degree felonies, sex offenses and any violent offense as defined by Ohio law, among a few other exceptions. Unsealable violent offenses include serious crimes such as voluntary manslaughter, rape, felonious assault or sexual battery among a long list of other offenses.
There are also rules governing at what point criminal records can be sealed. Dismissed cases can be sealed immediately. Misdemeanor convictions can be placed out of public sight one year after final discharge of the case in question. For a single felony, you must wait three years after final discharge. The waiting period is four years for two felonies, five years for three or more.
Again, according to information from Community Action, “employers, landlords and licensing boards often look to criminal records when evaluating candidates. When your record is sealed, it can increase your chances of getting a job, an apartment or license.”
Cardosi said while legal assistance can be helpful, the procedure actually is designed so it can be completed by a former offender. Community Action suggests persons contact their local clerk of courts to gain information on the procedure in their area as procedures can vary from place to place. There can be up to a $50 or more filing fee. Persons can ask the court to waive this fee usually by completing a poverty affidavit, sometimes called an “affidavit of indigence.”
In the end, Community Action said over 50 persons had signed up to meet with an attorney during the workshop Wednesday. There are unfinalized plans to hold additional workshops or seminars in 2019.
With a $17 million annual budget, Community Action, which is an official 501(c)3 charitable organization, has some 250 full and part-time employees, according to Sturgill. According to the group’s 2017 community impact statement, the various Community Action centers served approximately 15,000 Scioto County residents in a variety of programs last year. Community Action programs include everything from dental care to Women Infants and Children (WIC) assistance, weatherization and energy conservation services, Head Start programs and numerous social service and workforce assistance programs.
For more information, contact Community Action at (740) 354-7541.