Q: I’ve heard that Ohio law now makes it easier for criminals to turn their lives around. How?
A: Ohio’s Senate Bill 337, effective September 28, 2012, includes a variety of changes to the criminal justice system that are designed to make it easier for people who get into trouble to move on with their lives. Two of the bill’s provisions are outlined in this article: 1) the creation of “certificates for qualification of employment” for individuals convicted of certain criminal offenses and 2) changes in the laws governing the sealing of criminal records. Other criminal justice system changes provided by this new law, but not covered in this article include: a decrease in the penalty for illegal use or possession of drug paraphernalia; changes to juvenile law and court procedures; changes regarding child support determinations; and changes in penalties for driving under suspension.
Q: What is a “certificate for qualification of employment”?
A: An individual who has been prohibited from getting certain employment or occupational licensing as a result of a guilty plea or conviction for a criminal offense now may be able to get a certificate of qualification for employment. With some exceptions, this certificate lifts the automatic bar of employment or occupational licensing (known as a “collateral sanction”) that may otherwise result from a criminal conviction. The process for getting a certificate for qualification of employment requires a decision-maker to consider on a case-by-case basis whether to grant or deny an occupational license or employment opportunity.
Lifting a collateral sanction may mean, for example, that the offender could get a license restored to return to work. If, however, the offender commits a felony offense after getting a “certificate of qualification for employment,” the certificate may be revoked.
Also, the law would not eliminate a barrier to employment for someone whose prior conviction is directly related to an occupation (for example, someone who was convicted of check fraud and then applies for a job at a bank).
Q: How do I get a “certificate for qualification of employment”?
A: After you have been released from jail or prison following a guilty plea or conviction for a criminal offense, you can petition for a “certificate for qualification of employment.” In the petition, you must include specific information and file it either directly with the court of common pleas where you live or with the deputy director or other representative of the Division of Parole and Community Services of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC-PCS). If your petition is complete, the DRC-PCS will forward it to the court. For the petition to be granted, you must show that you have a “substantial need” for the relief to live a law-abiding life and that granting the petition will materially assist you in getting employment or occupational licensing. In addition, you must demonstrate to the court that granting the petition will not pose an unreasonable risk to the safety of the public or any individual.
Q: When may I apply for a “certificate for qualification of employment”?
A: If you committed a felony offense, you may file a petition for a certificate after one year from the date of your release from incarceration or your final release from all other sanctions imposed for that offense. If you committed a misdemeanor offense, you may file a petition for a certificate after six months from your release from incarceration or your final release from all sanctions imposed for that offense including any period of supervision.
Q: Is it possible for me to have my criminal record sealed?
A: If you are an “eligible offender” (meaning you have not been convicted of more than one felony offense, two misdemeanor offenses if the convictions are not for the same offense, or more than one felony and one misdemeanor offense in Ohio or any other jurisdiction), this law allows your criminal record to be sealed. “Sealing” means that, if you qualify, any record of your previous offense will no longer be public and cannot be seen by potential employers or others. Before this law was passed, only “first offenders” could have their records sealed.
However, this change in the law does not mean that every “eligible offender” can have records sealed. Before your record is sealed, a hearing must be held and the probation officer or county department of probation must make certain inquiries about you, including an inquiry about any child support obligations you may have.
Q: Where can I get more information and find out about other provisions of this law?
A: To see the full summary of Senate Bill 337 and all of its provisions, visit: http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=129_SB_337. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Division of Parole and Community Services (the PCS Division) is responsible for adopting rules for the implementation of a the “certificate of qualification for employment,” as well as the petition to be used to apply for it. You can get more information at http://www.drc.ohio.gov/web/offenderreentry.htm.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. For information about a variety of legal topics, visit the OSBA website at www.ohiobar.org. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.