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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court Resolves Appellate Conflict Regarding Sealing of Court Records

A trial court may seal the records in a case dismissed without prejudice prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

The Supreme Court resolved a conflict between two district courts of appeals. In a majority opinion  authored by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, the Court found that the section of the statute for sealing criminal case records, R.C. 2953.52(B)(4), does not require the expiration of the statute of limitations.

State Dismissed Charges
In March 2015, the state filed a complaint against Colton Dye in Fairfield County County Muncipal Court charging him with arson, aggravated menacing, menacing, criminal damaging, and domestic violence threats. Two months later, the state dismissed that complaint without prejudice.

In June 2015, Dye filed an application to seal the official records of the case, citing R.C. 2953.52. The trial court denied the application, finding that the records were not eligible to be sealed because the case had been dismissed without prejudice and that the statute of limitations of the alleged crimes had not yet expired.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court and held that R.C. 2953.52(B)(2)(a)(ii) requires a trial court to make a finding regarding whether the applicable statute of limitations has expired in a case dismissed without prejudice and only after making this determination can the trial court proceed pursuant to R.C. 2953.52(B)(4) to consider whether to seal the record.

The Fifth District certified that its interpretation of R.C. 2953.52 conflicted with a decision of the Eighth District Court of Appeals in State v. C.K. and submitted this legal question to this court: “Pursuant to R.C. 2953.52, must trial courts wait until the applicable statute of limitations has expired prior to sealing the records of a case dismissed without prejudice?”

Cases Dismissed without Prejudice May Be Sealed
Justice O’Donnell explained that while R.C. 2953.52(B)(2)(a)(ii) requires that a trial court determine whether the relevant statute of limitations has expired, and if a case was dismissed without prejudice, those determinations are not dispositive of whether a trial court can grant an application to seal records pursuant to R.C. 2953.52(B)(4).

The majority opinion analyzed the language contained in R.C. 2953.52(B)(3), which expressly references findings by the trial court that the case was dismissed without prejudice and that the statute of limitations had expired, and directs the court to order Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) official records sealed, including DNA specimens and profiles. The opinion further compared subsection (B)(3) with subsection (B)(4), which does not contain such directory language.

The opinion  pointed out that had the legislature intended for the trial court to order a record sealed only after the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations in a case dismissed without prejudice, it could have used the language it did in R.C. 2953.52(B)(3), but it did not do so.

Justice O’Donnell’s opinion was joined by Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, William M. O’Neill, Patrick F. Fischer, and R. Patrick DeWine.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor concurred in judgment only.

2016-1395. State v. Dye, Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-7823.

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Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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