COLUMBUS, Ohio – Gov. Mike Dewine signed Senate Bill 288 into law earlier this year.
The bill is a revision of Ohio’s Criminal Code. One provision expands expungement laws, specifically designed for low-level marijuana possession charges.
State Sen. Nathan Manning (R-13) drafted and introduced the bill.
Manning said Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb brought issues with expungement laws to his attention.
In 2022, Bibb tried to expunge nearly 4,000 of his residents’ misdemeanor marijuana cases. However, in October, Bibb withdrew those expungement applications due to state laws that prevented the city from applying on the behalf of a defendant.
According to Manning, an expungement is the complete removal of that criminal record, almost as if it never occurred.
Prior to Senate Bill 288, an application for expungement could not be filed until three years after that misdemeanor could be sealed. A sealing makes the record unavailable to the public, but it can still be accessed by certain employers and in other criminal investigations.
Bibb said he wanted to test the limits of the state law and believed there to be a reasonable legal argument for his actions.
"We were very keen on expanding the definition of the applicant and also focusing, being laser-focused, on low-level marijuana convictions,” Bibb said.
In October, President Biden issued a federal blanket pardon on marijuana possession charges. However, many people imprisoned for marijuana possession and use alone were convicted at the state level.
While recreational possession and use of marijuana are illegal in Ohio, it could become easier to expunge minor misdemeanor marijuana convictions.
The law aims for an easier expungement process, a shorter waiting period from the time of release, and the ability for cities to apply on behalf of their residents.
Bibb said this law is the first step in the right direction. He also said he plans on taking those expungements back to the courts as soon as the law goes into effect in early April.
"As soon as the bill becomes law in 90 days, we will be working with our administrative judge Michelle Earley, and our city clerk of courts Earle Turner, to make sure we have a very thoughtful and deliberate process to expunge as many records as we can,” he said.
Once the law goes into effect, an application for expungement can be filed as soon as six months from final release for minor misdemeanors, and as soon as one year from final release for all misdemeanors.
Once eligible, an application for expungement can be submitted to a local Court of Common Pleas. A judge may call for a hearing with the original prosecutor and look at probation reports. The judge will then make the final decision to either approve or deny the expungement.