Criminal Matters

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About the Criminal Justice System


For most people, familiarity with the criminal justice system comes from movies, television, and books. But when we become personally involved in the criminal law system, real-life issues come into focus and the need for information and assistance can arise quickly.

The Source of Criminal Law

When the Ohio Legislature decides that certain conduct is dangerous to citizens, or damaging to the society as a whole, such conduct is labeled a "crime" and is made punishable by sanctions such as fines and imprisonment. Criminal statutes describe the type of conduct that has been deemed a crime, the mindset or intent required, and in some instances, the punishment to be imposed.

For example, the following "Robbery" statute is found in Section 2911.02 of the Ohio Revised Code:

(A) No person, in attempting or committing a theft offense or in fleeing immediately after the attempt or offense, shall do any of the following:

(1) Have a deadly weapon on or about the offender's person or under the offender's control; 

(2) Inflict, attempt to inflict, or threaten to inflict physical harm on another; 

(3) Use or threaten the immediate use of force against another. 

(B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of robbery. A violation of division (A)(1) or (2) of this section is a felony of the second degree. A violation of division (A)(3) of this section is a felony of the third degree.

The Criminal Law System: Players and Procedure

The criminal law "system" encompasses the entire criminal process itself -- from investigation and arrest, to conviction and sentencing -- and the people who play a role in that process: the accused, police officers, prosecuting attorneys, bail bondsmen, , defense attorneys, judges, witnesses, probation officers, and corrections officers.

At all stages of the criminal process, a person suspected of or charged with a crime is entitled to certain fundamental rights that derive from the U.S. Constitution and key court decisions. These include the right to an attorney and the right to a speedy jury trial. These constitutional rights provide a balance between the government's interest in ensuring that criminal behavior is identified and punished, and the fundamental need to preserve and promote the individual freedoms that characterize a democratic society.

The Outcome: How Might a Criminal Case End?

The outcome of any criminal case depends upon the crime charged, the strength of the evidence, the legal validity of law enforcement and courtroom procedure, and the goals and strategy of the government and defense. When all is said and done, there may be no legal consequence for a person charged with a crime, because the charges are dismissed, or a full-fledged jury trial might result in a criminal conviction.

Some potential outcomes of a criminal case are:

A criminal investigation ends with no arrest.
A person is arrested and charged with a crime, then enters into a plea bargain with the government, agreeing to plead "guilty" in exchange for some form of leniency, such as a lighter sentence.
A person is arrested and charged, but before the case gets to a jury, the court dismisses it because the charges depend on evidence seized illegally by the police.
A person is brought to trial and found "not guilty," or acquitted, by a jury.
A person is convicted by a jury and sentenced to a long prison term or a sanction of community control. 

About Plea Agreements

About Negotiated Plea Agreements

Prosecuting attorneys are justice-driven. However, we understand that, no matter how strong the evidence may be, no case is guaranteed to end in a guilty verdict at trial. Plea negotiation is the process through which the prosecuting attorney and the defendant’s legal counsel work out an agreement on how the case should end, subject to approval by the judge and almost always by the victim, as well.

Many plea agreements involve the defendant pleading guilty to a particular offense, to fewer of the charges in a multicount indictment, or to an agreed sentence. Ultimately, the goal of plea negotiation is to make sure the penalty fits the crime. The certainty of a conviction and punishment is the primary reason that prosecuting attorneys engage in plea negotiation.

In cases involving multiple defendants, prosecutors may reach a plea agreement with one defendant in exchange for his or her testimony against another. This provides the prosecuting attorney with a greater likelihood of winning a conviction against other defendants.

A common misconception is that prosecuting attorneys use plea agreements to increase their number of convictions, simply for more “wins” in court. In fact, as ministers of justice in their respective counties, prosecuting attorneys are sworn to pursue justice for every offender charged with a crime.

Estimates vary, but most legal experts agree that 90 percent of all criminal convictions are the result of negotiated pleas.

Plea agreements ensure that criminals are convicted and sentenced for their crimes, which enhances public safety. Negotiated pleas also help relieve some of the strains on overcrowded court dockets and, in so doing, save taxpayer dollars. Without plea agreements, our courts would bog down, justice might not always be served, and our criminal justice system would be unaffordable for taxpayers.

Plea agreements benefit the criminal justice system. The sheer volume and demand of cases filling a court docket require some kind of reasonable – yet just – alternative to the time and expense involved in scheduling and holding a trial. Prison overcrowding is also an important consideration. To further alleviate overcrowding in county jails and the state prison system, judges may agree to “process out” certain low level offenders.

Plea agreements also benefit victims of crime and their families. They bring about an end to the case, and victims are able to hear the defendants accept responsibility for the crimes they have committed. Plea agreements may help avoid further trauma for the victim.

Across Ohio, negotiated plea agreements annually save taxpayers millions of dollars that can be better spent on other cases that truly need jury trials to get a conviction or on other vital needs within our criminal justice system.

As reflected in this chart, most felony cases are resolved through a plea agreement.  Low level offenders  are sometimes given diversion or intervention in lieu of conviction, and the case is dismissed pending completion of their diversion or intervention program (typically the Union County Drug Court program).  These alternative dispositions give offenders a chance to rehabilitate and live law-abiding and drug-free lives without the stigma of a felony conviction.  


Courtesy OPAA

Criminal Statistics and Graphs

Sealing a Record

Sealing a felony record

A criminal record can make it difficult to find a job or housing. Part of our office's efforts to promote safer communities is allowing low-level and first-time offenders opportunities to better their lives and find alternatives to crime. If you file  a motion to have your record sealed, Prosecutor Phillips or an assistant prosecuting attorney will review applications for sealing (often called "expungement") of records of eligible offenders.

If you have a criminal record -- either convictions or non-convictions (such as a dismissed case or one in which you were found not guilty) -- you may be eligible to have your record sealed.

We have provided the information below to assist you in understanding the process of sealing adult criminal records. Because our office reviews these applications and makes recommendations to the courts, we cannot assist you with applying to have your record sealed. However, we have listed other agencies and resources that can help you through this process. Please do not contact our office to request help with an expungement application.


What is expungement? What does it mean when a record is sealed

In Ohio, adult criminal records are not actually "expunged" (completely removed, destroyed or erased). Instead, Ohio law allows courts to allow certain criminal records to be sealed. This means that any electronic or paper records of your criminal charges are kept separate and secure. 

Most employers and landlords are not able to see any sealed criminal records, though there are exceptions for certain types of jobs (such as law enforcement, jobs working with children/the elderly, and state professional licensing boards).

If there are future criminal investigations involving you, prosecutors, judges and police can still access sealed records.

Why should I get my record sealed?

Even if you are not convicted of a crime, it can be helpful to get your criminal record sealed. In most cases, sealed records will not appear on background checks. This means it may be easier for you to apply for a job or license, get housing, apply to school or apply for credit. If your record is sealed, you can honestly answer on applications that the sealed record does not exist.

What records are eligible for sealing?


The Ohio Revised Code section 2953.31 defines eligibility requirements for sealing of criminal records. In general, you must meet the following criteria:

Types of criminal records

You can request to have certain convictions sealed, as described below. You can also have non-convictions sealed. These include cases that were dismissed or nolled, cases that a Grand Jury "no-billed" (voted not to send to trial), or cases in which you were found not guilty. You can also have arrest records sealed.

Eligibility Guidelines for Convictions

Number of convictions

You may not have more than two misdemeanor convictions, or one misdemeanor and one felony conviction.

What convictions are counted toward the total number of convictions?

  • Convictions of any age are counted. (For example, a conviction from 30 years ago is still counted.) 
  • Convictions from anywhere in the U.S. are counted
  • Minor misdemeanors are not counted. (These are "citation" offenses less than a fourth-degree misdemeanor.) There is no limit on the number of minor misdemeanors you can have sealed. 
  • If two or more convictions are based on the same criminal incident, they are counted as one conviction. (For example, if you were convicted of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in the same incident, the courts will consider this one conviction.) 
  • If you were convicted of two or three charges at the same hearing, and those convictions are from related criminal acts that occurred within a three-month period, they may or may not be counted as one conviction, at the court's discretion. 

What types of offenses are NOT eligible?

No matter the number of convictions, certain offenses are prohibited from being sealed by state law. These include:

  • First and second degree (F1 and F2) felonies. 
  • Any violent offenses, including homicide, assault, menacing, kidnapping, rape, sexual battery, robbery and intimidation. A full list of violent offenses is available in the Ohio Revised Code section 2901.01(A)(9).
  • Any sexual offenses not already listed, including unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, any pandering involving a minor and importuning. 
  • Automobile offenses involving tampering, driving under the influence (DUI or OVI), driving under suspension related to DUI or breathalyzer refusal, street racing, and hit-and-run incidents. 
  • Traffic offenses cannot be sealed but are not counted as criminal convictions. 

When are convictions eligible to be sealed?

You may not have any pending criminal charges against you when you apply to have a record sealed. All criminal cases against you must be fully discharged, which means:

  • You must have completed any jail or prison sentence 
  • You must have paid any courts costs you were ordered to pay 
  • You must have paid any restitution you were ordered to pay 
  • You must have completed any parole or probation you were ordered to serve 

For misdemeanor convictions, you must wait one year after full discharge to apply to have a record sealed. For felony convictions, you must wait three years before applying.

Eligibility and Guidelines for Non-Convictions

In cases that were dismissed, or in which you were found not guilty:
If all charges against you were dismissed, you can apply for the record to be sealed.
If you were convicted on some of the charges, but found not guilty on other charges (or other charges were dismissed), all from the same incident, you cannot get the dismissed charges sealed unless the convictions are also eligible to be sealed.

In cases that were "No-Billed" by a Grand Jury:
You must wait two years from the date of the No Bill to apply. (Prosecutors have two years to re-file charges.)

Sealing arrest records:
If you were arrested and no formal charges were filed, you must check with the police department that arrested you to determine how to request that your arrest record be sealed. 

You may not have any pending criminal charges against you to apply to have any non-convictions sealed.

How to apply


Please remember: The Union County Prosecutor's Office cannot assist you in applying to have your record sealed beyond the information provided here. Please do not contact our office unless you have received a response to your application and have a question about that response. Below is a list of agencies and resources that may be able to assist you in completing an application.

You do not need an attorney to file your application for you; you may do it yourself. However, if you need help, you should contact an attorney. 

File the application with the Union County Court of Common Pleas. 

There are separate application forms depending on the type of record you wish to be sealed (conviction, no-bill, arrest, etc.) The application fee is $50. If you cannot afford it, you must submit an affidavit of indigence along with your application. The affidavit of indigence is available from the Clerk.  Submit your completed application to the Union County Clerk of Courts.

**Please note: The Union ounty Clerk of Courts will send you notification if your record is sealed. Upon submitting your application, you should contact the clerk to ensure that your address is up to date in their files.**

A hearing will be scheduled to review your request. A judge has the final decision of whether to seal your record.

If the judge decides to seal your record, a certified court order will go out to any agencies that have your arrest or conviction record to seal them. You will also receive a copy of the order.

For more information on the law, click here. 

Resources for Criminal Defense Attorneys

Video Player for Union County Sheriff Interviews

Install PCPlayer 200 to view video interviews from the Union County Sheriff's Office.

Click the link below and install the software.

(Windows based computers only)

March Network Evidence Reviewer

Link to March Network Evidence Reviewer

Adobe Reader to view .pdf files

Link to Adobe Website to install Adobe Reader to view .pdf files.