Fresh start: How to wipe your criminal record clean

Attorneys say it's possible to seal your record so past crimes don't follow you around for the rest of your life


BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – Break the law and you pay the price, but there’s a way that you can wipe your record clean. It’s called expungement, and local attorneys say it is “accessible and attainable.”

“I think expungements are becoming a little more popular…because there is an age segment in our society — the millennials — who now are applying for employment and occupation positions when they realize that their bad acts of nine, ten, twelve years ago have caught up with them,” Boardman Attorney John Shultz said.

He said lots of people do stupid things when they’re young and he doesn’t think that should follow them throughout their adult lives.

“The thinking is, you’ve been good or you’ve been a productive member of society for this long, you should have the ability to have a fresh start,” said Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Chris Becker.

By law, people who have committed major crimes — like murders, sexual offenses, or violent crimes — cannot get relief. Expungements are only for nonviolent felons who have been convicted of lesser crimes and want to clear their record.

“It’s three years after your conviction’s been terminated, so that means if you were put in prison or on probation for five years, you’d have to wait an additional three years,” Becker said.

Courts almost always grant expungements unless the government can prove there’s a good reason not to do so.

“I cannot specifically recall anyone having been denied the expungement or the sealing of their record. However, I will tell you that I attempt to filter them out prior to filing,” Shultz said.

You can also have an arrest or criminal complaint sealed if you were found not guilty or if charges were dismissed.

If you still owe restitution, expungement will not be granted. There also must be a court hearing before a record is sealed, and the probation department will do a background check to make sure there are no pending charges.

Trumbull County opposes expungements of anyone who stole from the government or was convicted of arson.

There are also limits on the number of expungements a person can get.

Even though the record has been sealed, some public service agencies can still see it. For example, you couldn’t become a police officer or school bus driver.

It also doesn’t stop anyone from simply typing a name into Google and seeing what comes up. Shultz said there may still be an article or link floating around, and there’s no way to wipe that clean from the person’s slate.

“If the fact of a conviction has been picked up and published prior to it being removed from the public record, it is on the internet,” he said. “That is definitely a very dicey area and it’s one that has not been, to my knowledge, resolved completely. It’s just ongoing.”

So how many expungements have been done locally?

Mahoning County leads the way with 358 over the last two years. That total includes expungement of charges as well as convictions.

Trumbull and Columbiana counties didn’t include the charges wiped clean in the numbers they provided. Trumbull County has had 67 expungements and Columbiana County has had 47, but called that number approximate since the records have been wiped clean.

To start the expungement process, you’ll need to contact an attorney or your local court.