Getting a Fresh Start: Sealing a Criminal Record and CQE’s

By Tonya Sams

Many people who have been incarcerated have a difficult time obtaining employment after their release from prison. This can hinder them from fulfilling their parole obligations as well as providing for themselves. Reentrants can try to alleviate this problem by applying to have their criminal records sealed or applying for a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE).

Sealing a criminal record is often confused with expunging a criminal record. An expungement completely erases a criminal record, and this is not actually allowed in Ohio. When a person’s record is sealed, they are not obligated to reveal an arrest, charge, or conviction when applying for a job.

Not all sealed records are withheld from employers, especially those positions that are related to the conviction. This could include jobs involving children, older people, or people with developmental disabilities.

Convictions that cannot be sealed are 1st and 2nd-degree felonies, most sex crimes, crimes against children, crimes involving serious acts of violence, and traffic and OVI/DUI convictions.

There are two ways a person can qualify for record sealing: under Criteria A or under Criteria B. Applicants who meet Criteria A have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense. Those who meet Criteria B have no more than two felony convictions and four misdemeanor convictions. If an applicant has two felony convictions, he/she can not have more than two additional misdemeanor convictions.

Reentrants are eligible for record sealing if their cases were ruled “no bills” (not enough evidence to prosecute and the case is dismissed) or “not guilty”, even if they do not meet the requirements of Criteria A or B.

Based on the type of conviction, there is a certain length of time that you must wait before applying for record sealing. For example, applicants with misdemeanors and 4th or 5th-degree felonies must wait a year after completing their sentence, parole, or probation to apply, and they must also make sure all fines have been paid before applying.

There is no waiting period for people who were found not guilty and people whose cases were dropped (nolled) or dismissed.

More information is available in Legal Aid’s “Sealing an Ohio Criminal Record” brochure.  The brochure is available at: https://lasclev.org/recordsealingbrochure/.

If you are not eligible to have your record sealed, applying for a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE) might be an option. CQEs remove collateral sanctions that prevent people with records from being employed, certified, or licensed in certain fields. Collateral sanctions are penalties that were included in a prison sentence. CQEs do not guarantee employment, but they do allow people to be considered for positions that they were previously barred from. CQEs also have guidelines on the length of time that an applicant must wait to apply. Those time limits are based on the type of conviction.

Legal Aid may be able to help you seal your criminal record. Call 888-817-3777 or visit lasclev.org/contact for more information.   

Tonya Sams is the Development and Communications Assistant at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.