Ohio Supreme Court: No automatic sealing of records for pardon

For someone who has been convicted of a criminal offense, there is perhaps nothing more relieving than learning that they’ve been granted a pardon by the Governor, which is defined by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction as “an act of grace or forgiveness that relieves the person pardoned from some or all of the ramifications of lawful punishment.”

Interestingly, the Ohio Supreme Court was recently called upon to decide a case examining the extent to which a person can benefit from their gubernatorial pardon.

The case in question involved a Cleveland woman who was convicted of multiple property crimes, including theft and receipt of stolen property back in the 1990s.

In 2007, she submitted a request for a pardon to the Ohio Parole Board, which then voted unanimously to provide a clemency recommendation to Governor. Two years later, then-Governor Ted Strickland issued a pardon to the woman for her property crimes.

Sometime after the issuance of the pardon, the woman attempted to have her convictions sealed in the local courts, arguing that she was entitled to this action as part of her pardon. However, these efforts were denied by the courts.

The woman then filed an appeal with the 9th District Court of Appeals, which affirmed the decision of the lower courts.

Undeterred, the woman pursued the matter all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, where she argued that the inability to seal her record would essentially negate the benefits of the pardon, as she would still suffer from the lasting negative effects of her prior convictions, including difficulty securing employment, public benefits, housing, etc.

Here, the court disagreed with this argument and affirmed the decision of the lower court, holding that there is no Ohio case law declaring that the sealing of a criminal record must automatically accompany a pardon, and that the Ohio Constitution “expressly contemplates that a record of the conviction and the pardon will be maintained.”

“[A]lthough a pardon grants the recipient relief from any ongoing punishment for the offense and prevents any future legal disability based on that offense, it does not erase the past conduct,” reads the opinion. “In other words, what’s done is done.”

The court also noted that it is within the power of the General Assembly to make automatic sealing of a criminal record a direct result of a pardon, but it has yet to take this step.

Accordingly, the court held that the woman was not entitled to an automatic sealing of her criminal record and must proceed with the process like all other parties under current state law.

If you would like to learn more about expungements/sealing of records, consider speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn more about your options.

Source: The Plain Dealer, “Supreme Court rules that a governor’s pardon does not automatically seal records of the crime,” Robert Higgs, Oct. 23, 2013