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Service Projects

Ohio Governor’s Expedited Pardon Project

The Ohio Governor’s Expedited Pardon Project aims to expedite the process by which people apply for a pardon under Ohio’s laws. The project seeks to reduce challenges surrounding pardon applications in Ohio for people meeting certain criteria who can show that they have been rehabilitated and have contributed positively to their communities. Governor DeWine launched the Ohio Governor's Expedited Pardon Project in 2019 in partnership with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) and project team members the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and the Reentry Clinic at University of Akron School of Law. The project was expanded in November 2021 via a grant administered by ODRC.

Opportunity Port

Opportunity Port is an online portal that Ohio residents with Ohio criminal records can use connect with the legal help they need to complete and file a record sealing or expungement application. The project was awarded a total of $1,000,000 by The Ohio State University Alliance for the American Dream, a collaboration with Schmidt Futures, and brought to the Moritz College of Law to be managed by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) in July 2021. What began as a Franklin County focused program in December 2021 has since expanded to service all Ohio counties.

Automatic Record Relief in Ohio: Recommendations for Minimizing Implementation Challenges and Maximizing Impact

The purpose of this policy paper is to discuss the opportunities and challenges of government-initiated record relief in Ohio, a state in which a non-unified court system poses added administrative challenges to any statewide record-relief efforts. We discuss different policy decisions facing legislators in respect to government-initiated record relief, their respective pros and cons, and provide recommendations for how to maximize impact while minimizing implementation challenges. Ohio lawmakers and advocates have a unique opportunity to learn from the experience of other states that have endeavored to implement automatic record relief laws and minimize barriers to access to record relief, benefitting not only Ohioans with criminal records, but the state at large.

Is Expanding Eligibility Enough?: Improving Record Sealing Access and Transparency in Ohio Courts

Over the last decade, the Ohio General Assembly significantly broadened eligibility criteria for record sealing and expungement. But whether laws focused solely on broadening eligibility have a significant impact on record sealing utilization remains an understudied topic. The data from our research indicates a 55% increase in the number of granted record sealing applications in the state of Ohio from 2011 to 2021, but also suggests a relatively low rate of uptake when compared to the potential pool of eligible residents. Additionally, we report on the lack of jurisdiction specific data resulting in inability to compare utilization rate across jurisdictions, as well as lack of accurate and up to date information about eligibility criteria and record sealing forms on court websites. In conclusion we provide a set of recommendations for addressing identified challenges.

Prosecutor-Initiated Record Relief in Ohio: A Survey of Prosecutorial Plans to Seal and Expunge Low-Level Controlled Substance Offenses

Ohio Senate Bill 288 allows prosecutors to initiate sealing or expungement actions on behalf of defendants previously convicted of low-level controlled substance offenses. After passage of this new law, DEPC surveyed all elected or appointed prosecutors in Ohio to gauge their office's interest and willingness to initiate record sealing or expungement applications on behalf of people who have been previously convicted of a low-level controlled substance offense. Overall, about 12% of respondents stated that they were willing to pursue prosecutor-initiated sealing for low-level controlled substance offenses. For those who reported that they were unlikely to pursue prosecutor-initiated sealing, common explanations for not doing so included the lack of staffing resources, the lack of financial resources, the lack of data, the belief it is not the responsibility of prosecutors, and the sufficiency of the defendant-initiated system.

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Automatic Record Relief in Ohio: Recommendations for Minimizing Implementation Challenges and Maximizing Impact
Abstract Summary

Government-initiated record relief is viewed by many as the most effective way of providing relief to the greatest number of eligible individuals, but implementation challenges often mean promises go unfulfilled. In late 2022, Ohio Senate Bill 288 (134th G.A.) allowed prosecutors to initiate sealing or expungement actions on behalf of persons convicted of low-level controlled substance offenses. But a survey of prosecutors revealed very few would pursue prosecutor-initiated record relief due, in part, to a lack of staffing and financial resources. At present, two government-initiated record relief bills are being considered in the Ohio General Assembly. One focuses narrowly on selected marijuana offenses while the other is broader in scope and encompasses all offenses currently eligible for sealing or expungement under Ohio law.

The purpose of this policy paper is to discuss the opportunities and challenges of government-initiated record relief in Ohio, a state in which a non-unified court system poses added administrative challenges to any statewide record-relief efforts. We discuss different policy decisions facing legislators in respect to government-initiated record relief, their respective pros and cons, and provide recommendations for how to maximize impact while minimizing implementation challenges. Ohio lawmakers and advocates have a unique opportunity to learn from the experience of other states that have endeavored to implement automatic record relief laws and minimize barriers to access to record relief, benefitting not only Ohioans with criminal records, but the state at large.

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Prosecutor-Initiated Record Relief in Ohio: A Survey of Prosecutorial Plans to Seal and Expunge Low-Level Controlled Substance Offenses
Abstract Summary

Ohio Senate Bill 288 (134th G.A.) created Ohio Revised Code Section (2953.39) to allow prosecutors to initiate sealing or expungement actions on behalf of defendants previously convicted of low-level controlled substance offenses. After passage of this new law, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University surveyed all elected or appointed prosecutors in Ohio to gauge their office's interest and willingness to initiate record sealing or expungement applications on behalf of people who have been previously convicted of a low-level controlled substance offense. Overall, about 12% of respondents stated that they were willing to pursue prosecutor-initiated sealing for low-level controlled substance offenses. For those who reported that they were unlikely to pursue prosecutor-initiated sealing, common explanations for not doing so included the lack of staffing resources, the lack of financial resources, the lack of data, the belief it is not the responsibility of prosecutors, and the sufficiency of the defendant-initiated system.

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Commentary on the Disclosure of Sealed or Expunged Criminal History During Character and Fitness Reviews for the Practice of Law in Ohio
Abstract Summary

Article IV, Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution grants the Ohio Supreme Court the authority to create rules regarding admission to the practice of law and those rules are codified in the Ohio Rules for the Government of the Bar. Currently, the Rules for the Government of the Bar require applicants seeking admission to the Ohio Bar to disclose expunged criminal records, even though disclosure is not required for the vast majority of other occupations/licensures. The current paper argues that the Ohio Supreme Court should consider making the Ohio Rules for the Government of the Bar consistent with Chapter 2953 of the Ohio Revised Code, thus allowing individuals with expunged criminal records (as well as pardoned and sealed records) to deny the existence of such records.

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Commentary on Prosecutor-Initiated Sealing or Expungement for Controlled Substance Convictions that are not Considered Criminal Records
Abstract Summary

As part of Ohio Senate Bill 288 (134th G.A.), Ohio Revised Code Section 2953.39 gives prosecutors the option to initiate sealing or expungement actions on behalf of individuals who were convicted of low-level controlled substance offenses. Some Ohio jurisdictions are already seeking to utilize the newly enacted prosecutor-initiated sealing/expungement provision. Interestingly, Ohio Senate Bill 288 also added a provision to Ohio Revised Code Section 2925.141 stating that an arrest or conviction for illegal use or possession of marijuana drug paraphernalia does not constitute a criminal record and does not need to be reported by individuals arrested or convicted of that offense in response to any inquiries. Matching provisions for those arrested or convicted of minor misdemeanors in Ohio Revised Code Section 2925.11 (Possession of controlled substances) and Section 2925.04 (Illegal cultivation of marihuana) already existed before Ohio Senate Bill 288. Given that no research has explored the effectiveness of the above non-record, non-report provisions for improving employment outcomes (or housing outcomes), policymakers should rigorously and expeditiously explore the impact of those provisions given that they would likely entail substantially less cost and effort than prosecutor-initiated sealing/expungement.

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Adding Firearm Rights Restoration to the Reentry Process for Individuals Convicted of Drug Offenses in Ohio
Abstract Summary

In this paper, it is argued that adding firearm rights restoration education to reentry planning could have an impact on recidivism (or future sentence length) for a meaningful number of individuals. In partial support of this argument, having weapons while under disability is also one of the most common convictions that lead to an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction commitment. While some of those commitments may have involved additional convictions, it is reasonable to assume that a non-trivial number of individuals recidivate solely due to violations of the having weapons while under disability statute. Further, restoring firearm rights would also meaningfully reduce incarceration periods for those who recidivate because of other crimes (given that having weapons while under disability would not be included in the sentence along with the other crimes). The paper begins by providing an overview of Ohio’s having weapons while under disability statute, and a related federal law. Next, Ohio firearm rights restoration mechanisms are discussed. The paper concludes with recommendations for those that choose to pursue relief via Ohio Revised Code Section 2923.14. Finally, it is important to note that this paper takes no policy position on firearm rights in general. 

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Ohio’s Criminal Record Sealing Statute: The Need for Further Amendments After Senate Bill 288
Abstract Summary

Ohio Senate Bill 288 (134th General Assembly) is set to enact significant changes to Ohio’s rights restoration laws. One of those significant changes is the creation of an expungement process for those who possess criminal convictions. While expungement is logically a superior mechanism to record sealing, Senate Bill 288 mandates significant waiting times for those with felonies seeking expungement. Further, it is possible that prosecutors, judges, or victims will favor record sealing over expungement in particular cases. Therefore, record sealing may still be the most viable option for many individuals with criminal history. However, Senate Bill 288 failed to address important issues with Ohio’s record sealing provisions. An overview of these issues, and recommendations to address them, are presented in this paper.

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The Need to Amend Ohio’s Certificate of Qualification for Employment
Abstract Summary

Portions of Ohio’s Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE) statute (Revised Code Section 2953.25) are inconsistent with established policies and practices, cause unnecessary delays, and unnecessarily increase the financial costs associated with the processing of this mechanism. Proposed amendments, and reasons for proposed amendments, are presented in this paper.

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Is Expanding Eligibility Enough?: Improving Record Sealing Access and Transparency in Ohio Courts
Abstract Summary

Over the last decade, the Ohio General Assembly significantly broadened eligibility criteria for record sealing and expungement. But whether laws focused solely on broadening eligibility have a significant impact on record sealing utilization remains an understudied topic. The data from our research indicates a 55% increase in the number of granted record sealing applications in the state of Ohio from 2011 to 2021, but also suggests a relatively low rate of uptake when compared to the potential pool of eligible residents. Additionally, we report on the lack of jurisdiction specific data resulting in inability to compare utilization rate across jurisdictions, as well as lack of accurate and up to date information about eligibility criteria and record sealing forms on court websites. In conclusion we provide a set of recommendations for addressing identified challenges.

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Who Bears the Burden of Monetary Sanctions in Ohio?
Abstract Summary

A growing number of studies have examined whether monetary sanctions impact individuals other than defendants (or delinquents). These studies generally find that family members who are not criminal justice involved are often responsible for paying monetary sanctions for defendants (or delinquents) and that doing so can negatively impact their financial stability and overall wellbeing. Some also find that minority women are more likely to face the negative impacts of paying monetary sanctions for family members. The current study extended this work by utilizing a survey of Ohio court personnel to examine how often family members, friends, or partners pay for a defendant’s monetary sanctions. Results indicated that a non-trivial number of family members, friends, or partners pay monetary sanctions for defendants. In light of these results, policy recommendations are presented.

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Adding an Affirmative Defense to Ohio’s Having Weapons While Under Disability Statute
Abstract Summary

Firearm injuries and deaths are a significant public health concern. One method to reduce firearm injuries and deaths is to enact laws that prohibit certain individuals from possessing or using firearms. One such law is Ohio Revised Code Section 2923.13 (having weapons while under disability), which prohibits various individuals from knowingly acquiring, having, carrying, or using any firearm or dangerous ordnance. Notably absent from the statute is a clear process for statutorily disabled individuals who come into knowing possession of a firearm or dangerous ordnance through no fault of their own and wish to relinquish possession responsibly and legally. This report proposes an amendment to Ohio Revised Code Section 2923.13 that seeks to effectuate an affirmative defense. Failing to add an affirmative defense to Ohio’s having weapons while under disability statute could promote unsafe disposal or disbursement of firearms and dangerous ordnances as statutorily disabled individuals who come into possession of such items through no fault of their own may fear contacting law enforcement under the current statute.

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Marijuana Legalization and Record Clearing in 2022
Abstract Summary

In the spring of 2021, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and the Collateral Consequences Resource Center reported on an “unprecedented period for policymaking at the intersection of marijuana legalization and criminal record reform,” with four states legalizing marijuana possession and providing criminal record relief for past convictions along with a variety of social equity provisions. This trend has continued into 2022 with four additional states (Connecticut, Maryland, Missouri, and Rhode Island) adopting similar record-clearing provisions in connection with adult-use cannabis legalization. All four states made at least some relief automatic, removing the burden of a criminal record from many individuals while raising the bar on standards for marijuana record relief nationwide. This report, produced by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center in collaboration with the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, summarizes the cannabis-specific record sealing and expungement provisions enacted since publication of our earlier report in the spring of 2021 in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri and Rhode Island. Additionally, we provide a 50-state classification and description of marijuana-specific record clearing statutes.

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Rights Restoration Education in Ohio Jails and Prisons
Abstract Summary

Ohio has several rights restoration mechanisms. Among the most prominent are pardon, record sealing, and the certificate of qualification for employment (CQE). Important to the current study, each of these mechanisms have undergone changes in recent years that were meant to increase eligibility. However, research from other states (and some anecdotal evidence in Ohio) indicates that very few individuals with criminal history seek these mechanisms. Explanations for the low numbers of individuals seeking rights restoration mechanisms may include awareness and accessibility issues. In other words, if individuals are not aware of a mechanism or if the process is too burdensome or costly, fewer individuals may seek that mechanism. The current study focuses upon awareness and aims to explore whether Ohio jails and prisons provide any material or education about pardon, record sealing, or the CQE to individuals during or near release.

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An Alternative Revised Code Approach to Reduce Housing Barriers for those with Older Evictions in Ohio
Abstract Summary

In Ohio Senate Bill 158 (2021-2022), an eviction expungement was proposed. While this proposed legislation is certainly a commendable effort to address an important issue, the current formulation of the bill contains shortcomings that may hinder the overall objective of reducing housing barriers for those with evictions. The first section of this paper discusses issues with the current eviction expungement bill and proposes alternative approaches. The second section of this paper presents statutory language seeking to effectuate one of the alternative approaches.

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Irrational Collateral Sanctions
Abstract Summary

This paper, authored by Michael Zuckerman and forthcoming in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 20, No. 1, argues that while social barriers like stigma are not always easy for lawyers and lawmakers to address, legal barriers like so-called “collateral sanctions” (also known as “collateral consequences”) are their bread-and-butter. In Part I of this Essay, Zuckerman tells an anonymized client story that illustrates many of the existing efforts to blunt the effects of collateral sanctions in Ohio. In Part II, Zuckerman discuss in more depth both the problem of collateral sanctions and both the challenges and opportunities posed by existing remedial efforts. In Part III, Zuckerman discusses the opportunity for rational-basis challenges to irrational collateral sanctions when other remedial opportunities are unavailing.

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When a Prison Sentence Becomes Unconstitutional
Abstract Summary

This paper, authored by Michael Zuckerman and forthcoming in the Georgetown Law Journal, argues that "second look" legislation is unnecessary: the same authority should already exist, under current doctrine, in the substantive component of the federal Due Process Clause and (or) its state analogues. Though the Supreme Court’s approach to incarceration is anomalous as compared with other fundamental rights, the Court has made clear that incarceration pursuant to a criminal conviction must satisfy rational-basis scrutiny. Incarceration must be supported by one of the recognized purposes of punishment, and there are instances in which none of those purposes meets the test. Courts themselves, therefore, have due-process authority to release prisoners whose sentences have come to be irrational, regardless of the prosecutor’s position. Finally, if the Court ever resolves its fundamental-rights anomaly and subjects prison sentences to strict scrutiny, that scrutiny should apply with equal force to ongoing incarceration.

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“Must Pass a Criminal Background Check”: Interpretations and Impacts of Ambiguous Criminal Background Check Statements
Abstract Summary

Criminal history plays a substantial role in the hiring process, and many employers place criminal background check requirements in their position advertisements. However, a non-trivial number of criminal background check statements in position advertisements are ambiguous. For example, common statements note as follows: “Subject to successful completion of a background check” or “Must pass a background check.” Interestingly, no research has examined how employers and individuals with criminal history interpret ambiguous statements, and how such statements could impact employment searches. The purpose of this research was to address both of these gaps.

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Ensuring Marijuana Reform is Effective Criminal Justice Reform
Abstract Summary

This paper from DEPC Executive Director Douglas A. Berman and affiliated faculty member Alex Kreit discusses how Arizona should best advance marijuana legalization so that it can significantly improve Arizona’s criminal justice system.

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Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices
Abstract Summary

This paper, authored by Douglas A. Berman and published in the Federal Sentencing Reporter, spotlights and seeks to link two reform trends: revisions of marijuana prohibitions and expanded opportunities for expunging criminal records. Although new marijuana laws and enhanced expungement regimes may seem unconnected, reform momentum in both arenas often emerges form similar concerns about the injustices of mass criminalization. Moreover, the import and impact of new marijuana policies and expungement practices may be enhanced if advocates and policy makers effectively link these reform movements. 

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Marijuana Legalization and Expungement in Early 2021
Abstract Summary

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center, with support from the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, produced a report and an accompanying infographic that summarize the groundbreaking criminal reforms enacted in early 2021 as part of marijuana legalization and situate them in the national context.

Resources

Ohio Criminal Record Relief Options

Ohio’s rights restoration laws aim to reduce the negative impacts of a criminal record. Ohio has several such mechanisms that provide criminal record relief. Among the most prominent are pardon, record sealing and expungement, and the certificate of qualification for employment (CQE). This resource gives a brief overview of some of those laws and provides information on how individuals with criminal records can take advantage of them. It also includes downloadable handouts for the purpose of public information, as well as related research and resources.

Finding your criminal records in Ohio

Ohio Legal Help provides a step-by-step tutorial on how to find your criminal records in Ohio. 

Criminal record sealing and expungement in Ohio

Ohio law allows for certain eligible offenses to be sealed or expunged. The Center's service engagement project Opportunity Port connects you with legal help to assist with completing an application to seal or expunge eligible cases. Users must be seeking to seal or expunge a dismissal or conviction in Ohio. 

Expedited pardons in Ohio

The Ohio Governor’s Expedited Pardon Project provides free pardon application assistance for certain persons with certain types of convictions who have completed their sentences and been without additional criminal difficulties for a decade or longer. Not all Ohio convictions are eligible for a pardon through the Ohio Governor’s Expedited Pardon Project; persons with the most serious of convictions must look to the traditional clemency process.

Applying for a Job with a Criminal Record in Ohio: Recommendations Informed by Research and Experience

Employment is a fundamental necessity. However, having a criminal record can make it difficult to secure employment. Nonetheless, securing employment with a criminal record is possible. This guide presents several recommendations to help those with criminal history secure employment. Recommendations are informed by research and experience.

Applying to the Ohio Bar with a Criminal Record

Satisfying the character and fitness requirements of the Ohio bar can be challenging for those with criminal history, especially those with more serious criminal history. However, it is absolutely possible to do so. The current paper provides a brief overview of the character and fitness process relating to criminal history, and then provides recommendations aimed to help applicants improve their chances of approval. Recommendations are largely derived from the insights of an individual who possessed several felony and misdemeanor convictions and was ultimately deemed to have the requisite character and fitness to practice law in Ohio.

A Review of Research Examining the Effectiveness of Mechanisms Aimed to Increase Employment Outcomes for those with Criminal History

Research has consistently shown that those with criminal history generally have poorer employment outcomes compared to those with no criminal history. Recognizing these findings, researchers have sought to evaluate the effectiveness of multiple mechanisms which could theoretically improve employment outcomes for those with criminal history. The aim of the current paper is to summarize the literature on this topic. 

Restoration of Rights Project

The Restoration of Rights Project (RRP) is a project of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center in partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, National HIRE Network, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and Paper Prisons Initiative. The RRP is an online resource containing detailed state-by-state analyses of the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to restoration of rights and status following arrest or conviction. Jurisdictional “profiles” cover areas such as loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms rights, judicial and executive mechanisms for avoiding or mitigating collateral consequences, and provisions addressing non-discrimination in employment, licensing, and housing. In addition to the jurisdictional profiles, RRP materials include a set of 50-state comparison charts that make it possible to see national patterns in restoration laws and policies.

Event Recordings

Clemency and Record Relief Focus Area Experts