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Ohio Supreme Court: Courts Can Seal Case Records Prior to Expiration of Statute of Limitations

by Dale Chappell

A trial court may seal the records of a person whose case has been dismissed without prejudice before the statute of limitations for the offense expires, the Ohio Supreme Court held on September 27, 2017.

In March 2015, Colton Dye was charged by the State for arson and several other criminal offenses. Two months later, the State dismissed the charges without prejudice. On June 23, 2015, Dye filed an application to seal his official records pursuant to R.C. 2953.52(B)(4), which provides for sealing of records after charges have been dismissed. The trial court denied his application because the charged had been dismissed without prejudice and the statute of limitations for the offenses had not yet expired. Dye appealed, and the Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The Fifth District certified that its decision was in conflict with the Eighth District’s decision in State v. C.K., 2013-Ohio-5135. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed to resolve the conflict.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether R.C. 2953.52(B)(4) requires that the applicable statute of limitations must expire before a trial court can grant a person’s application to seal the records of a case dismissed without prejudice. On appeal, Dye argued that R.C. 2953.52(B)(4) does not prohibit sealing a case before the statute of limitations has expired for charges dismissed without prejudice. The State countered that the “unambiguous language” and legislative history of the statute require that the relevant statute of limitations expire in order for a court to seal the records. The high court agreed with Dye’s interpretation of the statute.

The Court found that “while a court is required [under R.C. 2953.52(B)(2)(a)(ii)] to determine whether the applicable statute of limitations has expired in a case dismissed without prejudice, there is nothing in the text of the statute requiring that a court deny an application to seal records if the applicable statute of limitations has not expired.” The statute merely requires the court to determine whether the relevant statute of limitations has run, but it does not prohibit the court from sealing the records if it has not yet expired.

 The Supreme Court explained that if “the legislature intended for the applicable statute of limitations in a case dismissed without prejudice to expire before a trial court can seal a record,” it would have used specific language to that effect as it did in another subsection of the same statute governing cases involving DNA specimens, which does require that the statute of limitations expire before sealing records after dismissal of charges without prejudice.

Because R.C. 2953.52(B)(4) “requires only that the trial court determine” if the charges were dismissed, whether the statute of limitations has expired “is not relevant under (B)(4) of the statute,” the Supreme Court held.

See: State v. Dye, 2017-Ohio-7823 (2017). 

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