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What are Ohio Criminal Court Records?
Ohio criminal court records contain the case information and records generated during a criminal court proceeding. They serve as the official record of the court, providing information on the exhibits, testimonies, and pleadings that occurred during the trial. In compliance with state laws, criminal court records fall under the umbrella of public records except in situations where they have been sealed by a court or rendered confidential by a statute.
Who Can Access Ohio Criminal Court Records?
Access to criminal court records is preserved for all members of the public. In compliance with Ohio state laws, anyone can make a request for public court records by simply requesting them. Requests can be submitted via different means, such as in person, online, or by mail. In most cases, the law does not require that requesters provide any identification or an explanation.
Are Criminal Court Records Free in Ohio?
In compliance with Ohio’s public record laws, members of the public may freely inspect open criminal records. However, this often requires visiting the physical courthouse and submitting a request to the clerk of court. In addition, most courts require that requesters pay a specific fee for copies. The payment is made to cover the cost of printing copies of a criminal court record.
Understanding Ohio’s Criminal Court Structure
Ohio’s judicial structure consists of five main levels
- The Ohio Supreme court
- Courts of appeals
- Courts of Common Pleas
- Courts of Claim, Municipal Courts and County Courts
- Mayor’s Courts (not a court of record)
Comprising a chief justice and six justices, the Ohio Supreme Court is the state’s apex court and the court of last resort on questions of the state constitution. It oversees appeals from lower courts, including appeals from death penalty cases. However, the state is host to two federal district courts which have limited jurisdiction over selected federal crimes.
Courts of Appeals
Divided into 12 appellate districts, the Ohio Courts of appeals serve as intermediate appellate courts for the state. The court hears appeals from lower courts as well as numerous state agencies.
Courts of Common Pleas
With one in each county, the Courts of Common Pleas have general jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases. It typically presides over cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other lower courts. Some courts are divided into multiple divisions, such as a General Division that handles criminal and civil cases, and a Juvenile Division that hears cases involving minors.
Municipal and County Courts
Municipal and County Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain types of criminal and civil cases. County courts preside over civil claims for disputes between $500 and $15,000. County Courts exist in parts of the county not served by a municipal court. They are not required in geographical zones where a Municipal Court presides over an entire county.
Courts of Claim
The Ohio Court so Claim has original jurisdiction over civil cases filed against the state or any of its agencies, including property damage, personal injury, contract disputes, wrongful imprisonment, and work discrimination.
What’s Included in a Criminal Court Record?
The contents of a criminal court record depend on the case, the court it was filed, and the type of case being tried. Most court records contain:
- Uniform Arrest Report
- Plea of nolo contendere
- Executed arrest warrant
- Notice of rights
How to Obtain Criminal Court Records
Members of the public can obtain records in person, via mail or online. Although a written request isn’t required for obtaining records, submitting one is generally recommended to assist with the search process.
How to Obtain Ohio Criminal Court Records In-Person
Step 1. Identify the Right Court
To obtain court records, interested parties will need to contact the record custodian for the court where the court was filed. Depending on the type of crime—i.e. felonies, misdemeanor or infractions, criminal cases may be tried at several courts.
- Felony cases: Most felony cases are heard at the Courts of Common pleas
- Preliminary hearings: Courts of common pleas, municipal court or county courts
- Misdemeanors: Most misdemeanors are tried at county courts and municipal courts. Misdemeanors may be tried at Court of common pleas.
- Juvenile cases: Most cases are tried at courts of common pleas
Step 2. Collect Relevant Case Information
Every court has a clerk or record custodian that processes requests for court records. But requesters are expected to provide relevant details that can help facilitate the search. Records can be found using a case number or by conducting searches using the name(s) of the parties involved in the case, attending attorneys or presiding judges. In cases where none of this information is available, members of the public may be able to find the record by manually searching through court records filed within a specified period.
Step 3. Pay for Records
Although criminal court records are free, requesters will still be expected to pay for the amount of time spent searching for the record as well as the fees for making copies of the provided record. Interested parties will be expected to complete payment before copies of the record are released. The total fee for each request varies, depending on the number of copies required.
How to Obtain Criminal Court Records by Mail
To obtain criminal court records by mail, residents must first establish that the court offers this service. Interested parties can confirm this by contacting the clerk of court or visiting the court’s official webpage. Mailing details, as well as the cost for coping official court records, can be found on most court websites. While the rules vary with different clerks, most courts require a physical address for mailing records. Payment for records may be made by credit card or check. Obtaining records by mail may take 3 days to 2 weeks depending on the court and the difficulty in finding the record.
Can I Obtain Ohio Criminal Court Records Online?
Yes. Some courts provide online access to criminal court records via a public access platform. For instance, the Ohio Supreme Court provides online access to court records via a searchable online database. It permits searches by case number, case type, and filing date. Members of the public can also search through records by party name or attorney. The Ohio Courts of Claims also maintains a smart search platform that the public can use to search for court records or hearing dates. Online records may also be available on the website of county courts and courts of appeals. Some of the county courts that offer online access to criminal court records include:
- Cuyahoga County
- Fairfield County
- Franklin County
- Hamilton County
- Lake County
- Summit County
- Montgomery County
Most of these platforms provide different search fields, so users can search through records by name, case number, court date or presiding judge. The information available on such sites is generated from digitized versions of the records maintained by the clerk of court. As a result of this, most of the criminal court information available online is typically restricted to only court records created or filed after 2000. Older records are more likely to be preserved as physical copies in a courtroom.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
Are all Criminal Records Open to the Public?
No. While most criminal records are open to the public, some criminal records may be restricted from public view by law or court order. Record custodians are legally authorized to withhold specific records that do not fall under the public record act. In such instances, the clerk of court provides a reason explaining why the records are not available. Requests for criminal court records may also be denied if:
The clerk finds that complying with the request would interfere with the discharge of his/her duties
- The Requester refuses to pay for the cost of making copies
- The records are no longer maintained by the clerk’s office
- The request is deemed broad and overly ambiguous
In addition, criminal court records containing juvenile matters are often closed to the public.
What Type of Information may be sealed in an Ohio Criminal Court Record?
Record custodians may redact or prevent the disclosure of some records if they are found to contain information that the office deems to be confidential. Examples of records that may be closed to public view include court records that contain:
- Paternity or adoption proceedings
- Drug and alcohol treatment records
- Psychological evaluations
- Expunged inmate record information
- Financial information, such as social security numbers and bank info
- Proceedings of mental health commitment
Who can Obtain Ohio Court Transcripts?
Almost anyone can obtain a court transcript. Except where prevented by law or court order, transcripts of criminal court cases fall under the umbrella of information that’s defined as public record. Interested parties can obtain copies of court transcripts by contacting the court reporter who covered the case. Some courts provide online platforms where requesters can submit their requests. Submitted requests will need to contain as much relevant information as possible, including the:
- Case number
- Date of the hearing
- Presiding judge
- Name of the defendant(s)
To obtain copies of transcripts, requesters may also be required to pay a fee.