Ohio SB288: Maximize Expungement!

Last month, Governor DeWine signed Ohio SB288 into law. Ohio SB288 contains nearly 1,000 pages of updates to Ohio’s Revised Code but today we’re focused on the changes to the criminal record sealing and expungement provisions, especially in cases related to cannabis possession.

I’m going to jump straight to the expungement provisions and what we should do about it. If you’d like to know more detail on SB288 (there are other items of interest in the law), scroll down to the section “Summarizing Ohio SB288.” –MWM

Why do we Need Expungement?

As libertarians, we believe all individuals are free to live their lives and pursue interests as they choose as long as they do no harm to anyone else. In other words, “don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff.” This non-aggression principle applies not only to individuals, but also to groups of individuals and to the government as well!

To that end, government force should only be applied to protect the individual’s rights to life, liberty, and property. We do not believe in criminalizing and incarcerating people for “crimes” without victims such as possession or sale of firearms, gambling, or the possession or use of drugs – either for recreational or medicinal use. Until the outright repeal of the laws that create victimless crimes, we strongly support the expungement of these “crimes” from offenders’ records so they can get on with their lives. Ohio SB288 does exactly that for marijuana possession under 200 grams.

In the Marijuana Movement article “Ohio Governor Signs Bill Letting Cities Grant Mass Marijuana Expungements, Among Other Reforms,” emphasis is placed on the ability to exercise drug-related expungements, including possession of 200 grams or less of cannabis. This is something that was pursued by Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb (D), who was concerned that Ohioans’ opportunities are otherwise being limited by such convictions. As libertarians, we’d argue that drug possession shouldn’t be a crime to begin with, but expunging records for victimless crimes is certainly a step toward liberty.

I don’t have enough detail to know what policies they advocate for, but the Prison Policy Initiative states that the United States is over-criminalizing people’s actions and has the “highest incarceration rate of any country in the world,” with nearly 1% of our population behind bars. The effect of mass incarceration in our country, especially for non-violent, victimless crimes, affects more than just the people who are currently locked up. This affects families everywhere who may be relying on the income these people would otherwise provide. After release from incarceration, individuals carry the burden of criminal records that they are forced to disclose during application for employment, housing, jobs, and loans, limiting their access to these opportunities.

What does Ohio SB288 DO Though?

Ohio SB288 gives cities and counties the power to apply for mass expungement of marijuana possession charges. Since navigating our legal system is often difficult and expensive, this law allows county prosecutors and city law managers to apply for mass expungement of fourth-degree or minor misdemeanor drug charges on behalf of suspects.

This new policy takes effect on April 4th, 2023 and will apply to marijuana possession of 200 grams or less. As an example, here’s what 200 grams of marijuana looks like:

Ohio SB288 will allow mass expungement of marijuana possession charges.  Anyone charged with possession of less than 200g marijuana (pictured here) is eligible.
An example of what 200g of marijuana looks like. Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Police Department.

How to Use Ohio SB288

We should use the changes introduced by SB288 to maximize the expungement of criminal records for cannabis possession and other state-identified “crimes” where it is possible to do so.

  • Here in Warren County, residents should encourage County Prosecutor David Fornshell to maximize expungement. In an email exchange with one of our members he has stated that Ohio policies are liberal on this matter and cannabis convictions are routinely expunged. As far as his actions, he said that he’s “happy to review cases on a one by one basis,” meaning that he’s not likely to proactively pursue mass expungement of records. So:
    • If you know of specific cases you wish to pursue, reach out to him directly and encourage others to reach out on the same.
    • Regardless of whether you know a specific case, you may also reach out to recommend mass expungement. Keep in mind that County Prosecutor is an elected position and David Fornshell would certainly like to be reelected.
  • You should look at who you can encourage at the municipal or other local level, including your city or township council. Seek expungement there in the same manner.
  • Please let us know of any request you are making, so that more of us can pull together and apply pressure for action.
  • Join actions minimizing criminalization and allowing people to re-enter society! Not having a criminal charge in the first place is much better than requesting expungement. Contact me directly mark.marasch(at)lpo.org to get connected with like-minded activists

Other Actions

As always, please consider these other actions:

  • Are there other topics you’d prefer to pursue? Take our survey to share your views.
  • Come to our meetings. We meet at Doc’s in Lebanon on the second Wednesday of each month at 7:00 pm. We complete our business meetings quickly (30-60 minutes), and move onto the truly important business of our social. It’s a great time for open discussion on issues and to meet with like-minded people.
  • Share your talents and interests! Let us know what you can do and what interests you. Your unique capabilities can enhance liberty.
  • Donate to the Libertarian Party of Warren County
  • Join the Libertarian Party of Ohio
  • Join the national Libertarian Party

Summarizing Ohio SB288

This section has been pushed to the end for those who are interested in knowing more about the provisions of the new law.

I cannot say that I’ve read the entire bill, but the reason that it is so long is that it touches on criminal law throughout the Ohio Code and tweaks bits of law here and there in ways that would take multiple days for a non-lawyer like me to decode and understand.

Looking at sources including WTAP, NBC4i, Cleveland.com, and Marijuana Movement, a quick summary of the bill shows it to be a mixed bag, including the following provisions:

  • A “Tenth Amendment Center” is set up within the Ohio Attorney General’s office to monitor federal executive orders for abuse and overreach. (…which describes nearly every action taken by the Federal Government. We should be pushing for this to be exercised, in addition to the expungement provisions!)
  • Misdemeanor 4th degree domestic violence and violation of protection order convictions are no longer eligible for sealing and expungement.
  • It will be easier for law enforcement to pull people over for distracted driving, including manipulation of electronic devices, in addition to holding them in your hand. (What we really needed was another very broad excuse to pull people over, right?)
  • Vehicular manslaughter minimum sentences are now enhanced when the victims are EMS and firefighters. (Why are we creating special classes of people for different treatment under the law? From George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”)
  • A degree of immunity is offered to people seeking medical assistance for drug-related overdoses.
  • A new felony was created for fertility fraud offense when doctors use their own sperm to impregnate their patients. (Is this seriously a common problem?! Why can’t current laws be used to punish these people?)
  • Underage drinking gets reduced to a level 3 misdemeanor, but still has fines and potential prison sentences. (Reductions in consequences are a step in the right direction, but an artificially high drinking age actually encourages alcoholism and introduces societal dysfunction.)
  • Prison inmates can reduce their sentences by up to 15% by participating in certain programs.
  • A judicial release program allows up to a 20% reduction in sentence to prison inmates during state emergencies. (Given how many are in prison for victimless crimes, I’m generally in favor of this.)
  • Penalties have been increased for disrupting religious services. (Weren’t property rights and trespass laws adequate to deal with this?)
  • Possession of fentanyl test strips has been decriminalized. (These test strips were previously treated as drug “paraphernalia,” a pretty bogus law to begin with.)
  • Marijuana (up to some amount) and paraphernalia possession are no longer criminal offenses. (How was paraphernalia illegal, anyways?)
  • Here’s what we should take advantage of: Criminal record sealing and expungement capabilities are increased at the local level.

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