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Ohio Supreme Court Holds Termination of Community Control Is Final Discharge for Purposes of Sealing Records and Terminates Unsatisfied Condition to Pay Child-Support Arrearages

by Matthew Thomas Clarke

The Supreme Court of Ohio held termination of nonresidential community control (“NCC”) is a “final discharge” within the meaning of R.C. 2953.32, permitting eligibility to apply to seal the record of a conviction three years after a felon receives final discharge even if some of the child support arrearages ordered paid as a condition of the NCC remained unpaid.

P.J.F. was convicted of fifth degree felony nonsupport of a dependent under R.C. 2919.21 for failure to pay most of his child support obligation for two years. “The court imposed a five-year term of NCC with conditions such as a prohibition against being arrested for or convicted of any new crime, a requirement to comply with all child-support orders” and “pay child support arrearages.” After considering P.J.F.’s current and future ability to pay them, the trial court waived fines and court costs.

The trial court ordered P.J.F. to spend several days in jail multiple times for his persistent failure to make child support payments but otherwise continued the NCC. Over two years into the period of NCC, the trial court granted a motion to terminate community control.

Over four years later, P.J.F. filed a motion to seal the record of his conviction. The State objected, maintaining that P.J.F. had not received a final discharge from his sentence because he had not fully paid “restitution.” The trial court granted termination after holding that the financial obligation had extended beyond the two-year period covered by the indictment and was therefore a condition of community control, not a restitution order. The State appealed, arguing that, pursuant to State v. Aguirre, 41 N.E.3d 1178 (Ohio 2014) (with financial community-control sanction, “final discharge” connotes a completion of “all sentencing requirements”), the failure to satisfy the arrearage payment prevented final discharge.

The court of appeals agreed with the State and reversed. With the assistance of attorney Mark J. Miller, P.J.F. sought and received permission for a discretionary appeal.

The Ohio Supreme Court stated that there “are important differences between” a financial community-control order under R.C. 2929.18 such as in Aguirre and the NCC sanction P.J.F. received. The former is akin to a restitution order, and the latter is a “condition of that sanction, rather than a sanction itself,” the Court explained. The differences between the two are apparent in how they are measured. The former is not fulfilled until a specific amount is paid while the latter is fulfilled after a specific “period” of time or duration imposed has elapsed.

The Court illustrated the difference by stating that if the defendant in Aguirre had paid the full restitution on the day it was ordered, “she would have achieved final discharge from her criminal sanction” at that time. In contrast, even if P.J.F. had paid his child-support arrearage in full immediately, that would not constitute final discharge because “conditions of nonresidential community control are not a checklist of obligations that, once met, result in the defendant’s immediate discharge from the community-control sanction,” the Court stated. See: State v. Rue, 172 N.E.3d 917 (Ohio 2020) (event exemplary compliance with conditions of community control does not automatically reduce the duration of the sanction). But the opposite is also true – failure to satisfy all conditions of NCC does not preclude completion of the period of community control, explained the Court.

Completing the full term of NCC is not the only way to complete the sanction. The Court stated that “a trial court may relieve a defendant of the obligation to serve the full term by ordering an early termination of the community control.” R.C. 2929.15(B)(2)(b) and (C). That’s what occurred in the present case. Consequently, when P.J.F.’s term of NCC was terminated by the trial court, the condition requiring him to pay child-support arrearages also terminated. Thus, the Court concluded that he has achieved final discharge and became eligible to have his record of conviction sealed as of July 21, 2017.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstated the judgment of the trial court. See: State v. P.J.F., 2022 Ohio LEXIS 2354 (2022).  

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