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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Failure to Pay Court Courts Does Not Make Expungement Automatically Ineligible

An offender’s failure to pay court costs does not prevent the “final discharge” of a case and does not automatically render a conviction ineligible for expungement, according to a First District Court of Appeals ruling.

The 3-0 per curiam decision reversed and remanded the case to the Hamilton County Municipal Court.

In 2005, Princella Ushery was convicted of misdemeanor possession of marijuana. The trial court imposed a $150 fine – later waived – as her sentence and assessed $85 in costs. More than a year later, Ushery applied to have her conviction sealed. The court reviewed the application, relied on an erroneous report that Ushery still owed the fine, and found her not eligible for expungement because she owed the fine and court costs.

Ushery appealed to the First District Court of Appeals arguing that the trial court erred because she didn’t owe the fine and because “her failure to pay the court costs did not, as a matter of law, render her ineligible under R.C. 2953.32(A)(1) to have the conviction expunged.”

The appeals court agreed.

“The trial court erred by declaring Ushery ineligible for expungement based on her failure to pay the fine,” the decision states. “The issue remaining is whether Ushery’s failure to pay the court costs precluded a finding that Ushery had been ‘discharged’ within the meaning of R.C. 2953.32(A)(1).”

The decision noted that the Eighth District Court of Appeals considered this issue in a 1990 case, State v. Summers, and that the Ohio Supreme Court has characterized costs as civil obligations not punishment.

“We find the reasoning of the Summers court persuasive, and we adopt it,” according to the decision. “Therefore, we hold that Ushery’s failure to pay the court costs assessed in the criminal proceeding that resulted in her conviction, a civil debt that was not made a part of her criminal sentence, did not prevent her ‘final discharge’ as contemplated by R.C. 2953.32(A)(1), and did not render her ineligible to have that conviction expunged.”

“But we also hold, as urged by the state, that Ushery’s failure to pay the court costs is a factor that the trial court can consider when determining, in the exercise of its discretion, whether Ushery has been rehabilitated such that expungement of her conviction is appropriate.”

Judges Sylvia Sieve Hendon, Penelope R. Cunningham, and Richard P. DeWine concurred in the opinion.

State v. Ushery, 2013-Ohio-2509
Opinion: http://www.sc.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/1/2013/2013-ohio-2509.pdf
Civil Appeal From: Hamilton County Municipal Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Reversed and Remanded
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: June 19, 2013

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