The short answer to this question is typically “yes.” Many dismissals of criminal cases in Ohio are done “with prejudice” as part of a plea agreement or is related to an evidentiary issue. However, a recent case from the Ohio Supreme Court addressed the issue of when a person’s case is dismissed without prejudice, does that person have to wait until the applicable statute of limitations has expired before filing for expungement?
The case, State v. Dye, was certified to the Ohio Supreme Court after the 5th District Court of Appeals issued a ruling that conflicted with a ruling on this question from the 8th District Court of Appeals.
The 5th District held that a trial court must make a finding that the applicable statute of limitations has expired in a case dismissed without prejudice and only after making this determination may the trial court consider whether to seal the record. The 8th District previously held that while a trial court must determine whether the relevant statute of limitations has expired, it is not a required factor to seal the record of the case. Only when DNA specimens, samples and profiles are at issue does the trial court have to wait for the statute of limitations to expire prior to sealing the record.
Facts of the Case
Following an incident in March 2015, a complaint was filed against Dye for arson, aggravated menacing, criminal damaging, and domestic violence. The state dismissed the complaint without prejudice in May 2015. In June 2015, Dye filed an application to seal the records of the case pursuant to R.C. 2953.52. The trial court denied the application, finding that the records were not eligible for sealing because the case had been dismissed without prejudice and the statute of limitations had not expired.
The 5th District Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court for the same reasons. However, this decision was in conflict with the 8th District Court of Appeals and was certified to the Ohio Supreme Court to resolve the issue.
What is a “Dismissal Without Prejudice?”
Cases in Ohio are dismissed in one of two ways: dismissal without prejudice and dismissal with prejudice. Dismissal without prejudice means that the state can later file charges or seek an indictment for the same conduct at a later date within the statute of limitations. Dismissal with prejudice means that the state cannot seek to later charge or indict a person for the same conduct.
Ohio’s Expungement and Record Sealing Statutes Do Not Require the Expiration of the Statute of Limitations
Dye contended that although R.C. 2953.52 requires a trial court to determine whether the applicable statute of limitations has expired in a case dismissed without prejudice, the statute does not prohibit applicants from seeking to have their dismissed case expunged. Moreover, the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations is only relevant in preserving or destroying DNA samples.
The state argued that R.C. 2953.52 contains unambiguous language directing the court to determine whether the statute of limitations has expired prior to sealing the records of the case.
R.C. 2953.52(B)(3) states that if the court determines that the complaint, indictment, or information in the case was dismissed without prejudice and the relevant statute of limitations has expired, the court shall issue an order sealing the DNA specimens, DNA records and DNA profiles. R.C. 2953.52(B)(4) provides that if the court determines that the complaint, indictment, or information in the case was dismissed; that no criminal proceedings are pending against the person; and the interests of the person in having the records sealed outweigh the government’s need to maintain the records, in addition to the order required under division (B)(3), the court shall issue an order sealing all of the records pertaining to the case.
Based on this unambiguous language, while a court is required to determine whether the applicable statute of limitations has expired in a case dismissed without prejudice, there is nothing requiring the court to deny an application for records sealing if the statute of limitations has not expired.
The state’s position reveals a lack of understanding of statutory interpretation. R.C. 2953.52(B)(3) applies to sealing records of DNA specimens, whereas (B)(4) provides that the complaint, indictment, or information was dismissed before sealing the records of the case. If the legislature intended for the applicable statute of limitations in a case dismissed without prejudice to expire before a trial court could seal the records of the case, it certainly could have used the language in (B)(3). However, it chose to not do so.
Columbus and Delaware, Ohio Expungement and Record Sealing Attorney
If you have previous criminal offenses that you wish to have expunged and sealed in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, call Johnson Legal, LLC at (614) 987-0192 and speak with Attorney David Johnson. As an experienced Columbus and Delaware, Ohio criminal defense attorney, Attorney Johnson will discuss with you your previous criminal convictions, whether you meet the requirements of an “eligible offender,” and assist you with the process of expungement and record sealing.
Johnson Legal, LLC serves the following cities in the central Ohio area for Criminal Defense:
Westerville, Worthington, Columbus, Polaris, Reynoldsburg, Grandview Heights, Shawnee Hills, Bexley, Pickerington, Gahanna, Sunbury, Powell, Upper Arlington, New Albany, Dublin, Hilliard, Lewis Center, Galena, Clintonville, Huber Ridge, Blacklick, Grove City, Delaware, Marysville, Groveport, Newark, Canal Winchester, Obetz, Marion, Mt. Gilead, Pataskala, Granville, Whitehall, Franklin County, Morrow County, Licking County, Knox County, Union County, Madison County and Delaware County