State v. A.S., C-220259

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Citation2022 Ohio 3833
Docket NumberC-220259
PartiesSTATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. A.S., Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date28 October 2022


STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,

A.S., Defendant-Appellant.

No. C-220259

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

October 28, 2022

Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Municipal Court Trial No. 18CRB-19780

Emily Smart Woerner, Interim City Solicitor, William T. Horsley, Chief Prosecuting Attorney, and Rebecca Barnett, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and Krista Gieske, Assistant Public Defender, for Defendant-Appellant.




{¶1} In 2018, defendant-appellant A.S. entered a guilty plea to one count of misdemeanor theft. A few years later, in 2021, A.S. sought to seal the record of her conviction in order to facilitate educational and professional opportunities. Although the state did not object, the trial court refused to seal the record, relying on arguments the state never advanced and that run afoul of the record at hand. A.S. now appeals, asserting in her sole assignment of error that the trial court erred in finding that a governmental interest outweighed her interest in having the record sealed. We agree, reverse the judgment of the trial court, and remand this cause with instructions for the trial court to seal the record.


{¶2} In July 2018, A.S. was charged by criminal complaint with one count of petty theft in violation of R.C. 2913.02, a first-degree misdemeanor. Her only offense was switching the price tags on a comforter set at Target, designed to save herself a little money. In October 2018, after having found A.S. eligible for diversion, the trial court ordered her to participate for six months in the Hamilton County Diversion Program established in accordance with R.C. 2935.36. In conjunction with this order, A.S. entered a guilty plea to the theft offense as charged.

{¶3} In February 2019, on motion by the state, the trial court issued an entry reinstating A.S.'s case to the court's active docket following her failure to complete the diversion program. According to the court's entry, A.S. had failed to fulfill the following conditions of the program: attend an N.C. T.I. Critical Thinking Class by January 2019; pay an administrative fee of $133; complete 60 community-service hours; and attend monthly meetings. In August 2019, the trial court sentenced A.S. to


a suspended 180-day jail term and six months of community control. Six months later, in February 2019, the trial court terminated A.S.'s community control.

{¶4} Three years after her offense, in July 2021, A.S. filed her first application to seal the record of her theft conviction. The trial court denied the request, but indicated that it might be open to further requests down the road. A.S. accordingly filed a second application to seal the record of her conviction in March 2022. This application, too, was denied by the trial court after a hearing. Although the state did not object to sealing the record, the trial court concluded that the government's interest in maintaining the record as public outweighed A.S.'s interest in sealing the record. This appeal followed.


{¶5} In her sole assignment of error, A.S. maintains that the trial court erred in denying her application to seal the record of her misdemeanor theft conviction. "In Ohio, sealing an individual's criminal record is an act of grace" created by the state. State v. R.S., 1st Dist. Hamilton Nos. C-210169, C-210170, C-210171, C-210172, and C-210173, 2022-Ohio-1108, ¶ 10. "We review a trial court's decision to deny an application to seal records for an abuse of discretion." State v. McVean, 1st Dist. Hamilton Nos. C-210459 and C-210460, 2022-Ohio-2753, ¶ 7, citing State v. Sager, 2019-Ohio-135, 131 N.E.3d 335, ¶ 9 (1st Dist). We will thus not reverse the trial court's judgment unless the court has exercised its discretionary judgment over the matter in an unwarranted way or committed legal error. See Johnson v. Abdullah, 166 Ohio St.3d 427, 2021-Ohio-3304, 187 N.E.3d 463, ¶ 35.

{¶6} Under R.C. 2953.32, which governs a trial court's decision to grant or deny an application to seal a record of conviction, an "eligible offender" may apply to


the sentencing court for the sealing of a criminal record. "A court may grant an application if the requirements identified by R.C. 2953.32(C)(1) are satisfied." R.S. at ¶ 10, citing Sager at ¶ 10. After determining whether the applicant is an eligible offender, R.C. 2953.32(C)(1) requires the trial court to make determinations, including whether criminal proceedings are pending against the applicant, whether the applicant has been rehabilitated, and whether the interests of the applicant in having his or her record sealed outweigh the legitimate needs, if any, of the government. "After weighing the interests of the applicant and government, the court 'shall order all official records of the case' sealed if the 'legitimate government needs to maintain those records' do not outweigh the applicant's interest in sealing her records." R.S. at ¶ 11, quoting R.C. 2932(C)(2).

{¶7} R.C. 2953.32 is a "remedial statute," R.S. at ¶ 10, that is "construed liberally to promote [its] purpose and assist the parties in obtaining justice." State v. Young, 5th Dist. Morrow No. 2021 CA 0009, 2022-Ohio-593, ¶ 21. The purpose of sealing a record of conviction is to recognize that people may be rehabilitated. State v. Petrou, 13 Ohio App.3d 456,...

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