State v. J.L., 19AP-91

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Citation2020 Ohio 3466
Decision Date25 June 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19AP-91,19AP-91
PartiesState of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. [J.L.], Defendant-Appellee.

2020 Ohio 3466

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellant,
[J.L.], Defendant-Appellee.

No. 19AP-91


June 25, 2020

(C.P.C. Nos. 06CR-6393) 07CR-3357)



On brief: Ron O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Valerie B. Swanson, for appellant. Argued: Valerie B. Swanson.

APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas


{¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, State of Ohio, appeals a decision of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas entered on February 12, 2019, in which it granted the application for order sealing record of conviction filed by J.L., defendant-appellee.

{¶ 2} On August 24, 2006, a Franklin County Grand Jury indicted J.L. for one count of receiving stolen property and one count of burglary in case No. 06CR-6393. J.L. was initially granted diversion, but diversion was set aside after a second indictment issued in May 2007 in case No. 07CR-3357. The second indictment alleged identity fraud, misuse of credit, theft, safecracking of his parents' lockbox to obtain a credit card stored there, and three counts of forgery.

{¶ 3} J.L. ultimately entered guilty pleas in both cases. In case No. 06CR-6393, he pled guilty to burglary as a fourth-degree felony on July 24, 2007. In case No. 07CR-

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3357, he pled guilty to two counts of forgery, both felonies of the fourth degree on August 17, 2007. The trial court imposed three years of community control (also referred to as "probation") in the two cases and, in case No. 07CR-3357, required J.L. to pay $4,000 in restitution. Although the judgment entry did not specify to whom restitution was owed, the court's handwritten August 17, 2007 disposition sheet indicated it should be paid to "National City Bank." The August 27, 2007 restitution order specified "National City Bank" but listed the amount to be paid as $1,400. No party appealed.

{¶ 4} On May 22, 2009, J.L.'s three-year period of community control was extended for another two years by agreement with a new termination date set for August 14, 2012.

{¶ 5} On July 19, 2012, the probation department requested revocation in case No. 07CR-3357 on grounds J.L. had paid only $799 of the restitution order and still owed $3,201. On August 24, 2012, the trial court heard the probation department's request for revocation of J.L.'s community control in case No. 07CR-3357. At the hearing, the trial court found J.L. had violated probation but determined to discharge him, noting unsuccessful completion, rather than to revoke probation and impose a prison term. In the August 24, 2012 criminal case processing sheet, the court ordered that community control be terminated as unsuccessful and that restitution be reduced to a civil judgment against J.L. No party sought an appeal to challenge the conversion of restitution to a civil judgment. On August 27, 2012, the trial court issued an order terminating probation as unsuccessful in case No. 07CR-3357. During this same period, on July 25, 2012, the trial court issued an entry finding J.L. had fully complied with the terms of his probation in case No. 06CR-6393 and discharged him successfully with respect to that case.

{¶ 6} Six years later, on November 30, 2018, J.L. filed an application for order sealing the record in both case Nos. 06CR-6393 and 07CR-3357. The state objected on the ground that J.L. was ineligible with respect to case No. 07CR-3357 due to the fact he had not paid full court-ordered restitution. At a hearing on January 25, 2019, J.L.'s father and mother testified they were the victims of the forgery crimes in case No. 07CR-3357. J.L., while involved with drugs and criminal associates, had broken into his parents' lockbox, stolen their credit card, and used it without authorization. J.L.'s father testified that J.L. was doing better and that, as of the time of the hearing, he and his wife had a

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good relationship with J.L. again. J.L.'s mother testified that in light of the restored relationship, they had determined to forgive the remainder of the unpaid restitution; she also filed an affidavit to that effect on the day of the hearing. No party objected to J.L.'s parents' assertion that they were the victims to whom restitution was owed or to J.L.'s mother's forgiveness of the remaining obligation.

{¶ 7} After hearing arguments of counsel on whether to seal J.L.'s criminal records based on the evidence, the trial court determined that the matter hinged on a single legal issue: eligibility timing. Because more than five years had elapsed since J.L.'s discharge from probation, J.L.'s defense counsel argued that a sealing could be granted immediately, particularly in light of his parents' forgiveness of restitution. The state, however, argued that final discharge had not occurred until the previously ordered restitution in the 2007 case was paid or forgiven and, thus, the statutory waiting period had not begun to run until the date when restitution forgiveness had been established, which was at the hearing on J.L.'s application for order sealing record on January 25, 2019. The trial court took the matter under advisement.

{¶ 8} On February 9, 2019, the trial court reconvened for another hearing at which it heard further argument and announced its decision. The trial court determined that J.L. was an "eligible offender" under R.C. 2953.31 and 2953.32, and it held that his application was timely because his final discharge date was when he was discharged from community control on August 24, 2012. The trial court concluded that J.L. had been rehabilitated to the satisfaction of the court and, in light of his parents' forgiveness of the debt for the previously ordered restitution, J.L.'s interest in having the records sealed outweighed the legitimate interest of the government in maintaining the records for public view. In a February 12, 2019 judgment, the trial court granted J.L.'s application for an order sealing his record. The state appeals, asserting the following assignment of error:


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{¶ 9} Whether to grant an application to seal criminal records is a two-step process. In the first step, the trial court determines whether the offender is an "eligible offender," including whether the offender has waited the requisite time period before filing. State v. C.A., 10th Dist. No. 14AP-738, 2015-Ohio-3437, ¶ 9. We review this step de novo. State v. C.L.W., 10th Dist. No. 18AP-658, 2019-Ohio-1965, ¶ 7. In the second step, a trial court weighs a number of substantive considerations for and against the sealing. See C.A. at ¶ 10. The considerations undertaken in this second step are reviewable according to an abuse of discretion standard. C.L.W. at ¶ 7. Despite employing discretion in weighing the substantive considerations for and against sealing, a trial court "shall" grant an application to seal criminal records when all the statutory requirements are met. R.C. 2953.32(C)(2); see also C.A. at ¶ 11; State v. Schoenberger, 10th Dist. No. 15AP-451, 2015-Ohio-4870, ¶ 8.

{¶ 10} The state's arguments in this case concern only the first step—whether J.L. is an "eligible offender" and has waited the requisite period of time to apply, according to the definition of "eligible offender" in R.C. 2953.31 and 2953.32. As relevant to this case, an eligible offender is:

Anyone who has been convicted of one or more offenses, but not more than five felonies, * * * if all of the offenses * * * are felonies of the fourth or fifth degree or misdemeanors and none of those offenses are an offense of violence or a felony sex offense[.]

R.C. 2953.31(A)(1)(a).

{¶ 11} According to the records in this case, J.L. has been convicted of three fourth-degree felonies: two counts of forgery and one count of burglary, now called trespass in a habitation. None of these is an offense of violence or a felony sex offense. See, e...

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