A new Ohio expungement law that quietly went into effect last week gives people with five felonies a chance to seal their criminal records.
The changes-- a direct result of the opioid epidemic-- could give a fresh start to those who have been convicted of drug, theft and other offenses.
Anyone convicted of first, second or third degree felonies would be disqualified from seeking expungement. Those who committed misdemeanors or lower-level felonies involving violence or sex crimes would also not be eligible.
Under the old law, people with up to two misdemeanors and no felonies or one misdemeanor and one felony could make a request to have records sealed.
Under the new law, people with no more than five felonies of the fourth or fifth degree or unlimited misdemeanors (excluding crimes of violence and sex offenses) could pay $50 and petition the court for expungement.
A person with an expunged record would not have to admit to the past crimes on a job application. It would be as if the convictions never happened and the public would no longer have access to court information.
That's concerning to Summit County Judge Alison McCarty who described the expungement eligibility rules, jumping from one felony to five felonies, as a "big leap."
"As a potential employer of people that may come into my home and work in my home or do things for my family, I would certainly want to know if that person has a criminal background," McCarty said.
Bernie Rochford, the executive vice President of Oriana House, said a major reason for the expungement changes is the dramatic spike of people caught up in the opioid epidemic and charged multiple times.
"You could rack up three, four or five felony offenses pretty quickly over several years in your youth or in a period of desperation," Rochford said.
He supports the new law and believes it will break down barriers and create a fresh start to those struggling to rebound from a criminal past.
"They can't find employment or maybe they've found employment. They've done a nice job. They've lost their job because of through no fault of their own and now they're back in the market to get a new job."
Judges will still have discretion over whether to seal records. For a person with one felony, expungement would not happen until three years after the crime. It would take four years for a person with two felonies on their record and five years for someone with three to five felonies.
McCarty expects many hearings will be requested as news of the adjusted expungement law starts to spread.
She said it will create added stress for judges who will have to review multiple cases before deciding if sealing a record outweighs a potential risk to the community.
"I'm going to be the instrument that's going to be denying that information to our citizens so I'm going to feel that obligation heavily."