Ohio divides its misdemeanor into five offense levels: first- to fourth-degree misdemeanors and minor misdemeanors. First- through fourth-degree misdemeanors may be punished by jail time and fines. A person convicted of a minor misdemeanor faces a fine only (no jail time). For more serious offenses, felony penalties apply.
This article will discuss the penalty, sentencing, and sealing options for Ohio misdemeanors.
Ohio classifies misdemeanor penalties as follows.
Additional jail terms. Ohio authorizes additional jail terms for certain misdemeanors, such as repeat OVIs (operating a vehicle under the influence) and prostitution offenses committed near a school. A judge can impose an additional jail term of up to 60, 120, or 180 days depending on the offense.
Enhanced felony penalties. Having repeat misdemeanor convictions on record can enhance a misdemeanor penalty to a felony. For example, a second conviction for menacing by stalking increases from a first-degree misdemeanor to a fourth-degree felony. A person could also face enhanced charges when committing a misdemeanor against a vulnerable or protected victim. Simple assault, for instance, goes from a first-degree misdemeanor to a felony when the defendant assaults a peace officer, teacher, health care worker, court official, or jailor. Ohio law authorizes other enhancements as well.
In most instances, judges retain considerable discretion in misdemeanor sentencing, including what type of sanction to order and for how long (up to the maximums stated in law). Some misdemeanors impose mandatory penalties that judges cannot deviate from.
The law directs judges to reserve maximum jail sentences for the worst offenders. And, before imposing jail time, the court must consider community control sanctions (similar to probation in other states). In certain cases, a defendant may be able to avoid criminal court or a conviction.
Judges can impose community control sanctions in lieu of or in addition to jail time. If the defendant receives a jail sentence, the judge can suspend all or a part of it and condition the suspension on compliance with community control terms.
Defendants subject to community control sanction must obey all laws and seek permission before leaving the state. A judge may also direct the defendant to serve time in a halfway house or residential treatment center. To allow a defendant to work, receive treatment, or care for family, a judge may permit intermittent confinement served on nights or weekends. Nonresidential community control options include day reporting, house arrest with electronic monitoring, community service hours, drug treatment, random drug tests, and curfews.
A violation of community control can result in more restrictive sanctions, more time under community control (up to five years), or jail time.
A judge may grant offenders intervention in lieu of conviction (ILC) if addiction or mental health issues contributed to their criminal behavior. A defendant must plead guilty, but the court stays (holds off) further criminal proceedings based on the defendant's agreement to intervention services. ILC can last up to five years. A defendant who successfully completes ILC avoids a criminal conviction on record. If the defendant violates the terms or fails to complete ILC, the judge may impose additional sanctions, lengthen the time spent on ILC, or enter the defendant's guilty plea and continue with sentencing.
Prosecutors may offer nonviolent offenders—primarily first-time offenders—a chance to avoid a criminal conviction by participating in pretrial diversion. The offender must agree to program conditions, such as drug testing, counseling, supervision, and payment of fees. Upon successful completion of the program, the prosecutor recommends dismissal of the charges.
A person convicted of a misdemeanor can apply to have their criminal record sealed in Ohio. The public cannot view sealed records, making it easier for a person to find a job or housing. (A note on terminology: Most records in Ohio will be sealed, not expunged. Expungement in Ohio refers to the destruction of records and occurs only in very limited circumstances.)
To seal a misdemeanor conviction, the person must wait one year after completing their sentence (including paying court costs and restitution) and not have any pending criminal charges. Certain misdemeanors can never be sealed, such as assault, traffic and impaired driving offenses, crimes involving children, crimes involving violence, and sexual offenses.
In addition to having an eligible conviction, the person must meet eligibility requirements based on their criminal history. Having a lengthy criminal history or a history of violent offenses may disqualify you. Check out this guide from the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission on eligibility pathways. Another great resource is the Ohio Justice & Policy Center.
Prosecutors have a limited amount of time in which to file misdemeanor charges. These time limits are called statutes of limitations. If a prosecutor fails to begin criminal proceedings within the set time period, a defendant can ask the court to dismiss the charges. Prosecutors typically have two years from the date of the crime to file misdemeanor charges. Minor misdemeanors, however, must be charged within six months.
Even if you're facing only a minor criminal charge, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area. Being convicted of a misdemeanor not only brings with it significant potential penalties, but you may also have difficulty securing future employment or passing a background check. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to fare in court based on the law, the facts, and the assigned judge and prosecutor. With a lawyer's help, you can obtain the best possible outcome under the circumstances.
(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2901.13; 2929.24 to .28, .32; 2935.26; 2951.041; 2953.31 to .32 (2021).)