A governor's pardon offers forgiveness but doesn't automatically mean the offender's criminal record can be sealed by the courts, according to a 4-3 decision issued Wednesday by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Courts lack the authority to seal these records following a gubernatorial pardon unless the person meets the legal requirements, the high court said.
James Radcliff received a pardon in 2011 from then Gov. Ted Strickland for crimes committed three decades ago in Franklin County. He wanted his criminal record sealed but the Ohio Supreme Court says for that to happen state law would have to be changed because the current statutes don't permit offenders with multiple convictions to have their criminal records sealed from public view.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said in the majority opinion: “[J]udges must respect that it is the role of the legislature to address the statutory scheme on sealing records, even in cases in which gubernatorial pardons are granted. Until the General Assembly acts, we are left with the understanding that a pardon provides only forgiveness, not forgetfulness."
It was the second decision of the day relating to the sealing of records. The Supreme Court also ruled in a separate case that courts may unseal an acquitted defendant's record only for reasons spelled out in statute and the courts cannot add additional reasons or exceptions.
A defendant was acquitted in 2012 of drug trafficking charges and his request to have the record sealed was granted by the trial court. But three days later the state charged him with retaliating against an informant in that first case. The court then approved the state's request to gain access to the sealed drug-trafficking case records.
O'Connor said in the ruling that unsealing the records for that purpose wasn't expressly spelled out in state law.