Even if a criminal is granted a pardon by the governor, a criminal past can remain online once it’s part of the public record.
The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on whether courts have authority to seal conviction records after a governor has granted a pardon for a person’s criminal past.
The case concerns James Radcliff, a convicted felon who was pardoned by former Gov. Ted Strickland shortly before he left office in January 2011. Radcliff had been convicted of burglary, felonious assault and other crimes, but he appeared to have turned his life around. He worked on the janitorial staff with Dublin City Schools for more than 20 years, was active in his church and took care of his wife, who has disabilities, and his five children.
“Since that time, 33 years ago, he’s lived a very exemplary life,” John Keeling, Radcliff’s public defender, said.
However, his former transgressions were discovered when This Week newspapers exposed his past in an article about school employees and he was fired.
Because he was pardoned, he is seeking to get the records related to his crimes sealed. Keeling argued that “if we don’t have a sealing of records, we don’t have any use” of the pardon, because the records make it difficult for Radcliff to find work or participate in society.
The pardon wouldn’t erase Radcliff’s guilt, and the information would still be accessible to law-enforcement agencies, but that is a more limited scope than a typical public record.
But Seth Gilbert, an attorney arguing the case for the state, said the record of Radcliff’s pardon would still be available, and people have a right to the information.
Because Radcliff is not a one-time offender, Gilbert also argued that he is ineligible to have his records sealed, and that the pardon isn’t reason to allow it.
In another case last year, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a pardon didn’t inherently mean an offender was entitled to have his record erased.
The General Assembly has passed a statute that says records can’t be sealed, and pardons can’t be used as a factor in that decision.
“Once the legislature says something should not be sealed, judges have to follow that,” Gilbert said.
By Kristen Mitchell - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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