The Ohio Public Records Act, also known as the Sunshine Laws, governs public access to state government records. There are, however, several exceptions to the laws, and notably, the laws only govern access to corrections records. Access to criminal history information and court records are both governed by separate statutes and policies.
The Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI), a unit within the state’s Attorney General office, is statutorily mandated to collect and maintain criminal history information. (Oh. Rev. Code § 109.51, 109.57(A)) BCI collects and maintains records on persons “convicted of committing within this state a felony, any crime constituting a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony on subsequent offenses, or any misdemeanor described in division (A)(1)(a), (A)(5)(a), or (A)(7)(a) of section 109.572 of the Revised Code, of all children under eighteen years of age who have been adjudicated delinquent children for committing within this state an act that would be a felony or an offense of violence if committed by an adult or who have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to committing within this state a felony or an offense of violence, and of all well-known and habitual criminal.” (Oh. Rev. Code § 109.57(A))
The statutes and administrative policies that govern the collection and maintenance of criminal history records are explicit in stating that these records are not considered public. In addition to “photographs, pictures, descriptions, fingerprints, measurements, and other information that may be pertinent of all persons”, the bureau is also required to collect and maintain the following information:
“(a) The incident tracking number contained on the standard forms furnished by the superintendent…;
(b) The style and number of the case;
(c) The date of arrest, offense, summons, or arraignment;
(d) The date that the person was convicted of or pleaded guilty to the offense, adjudicated a delinquent child for committing the act that would be a felony or an offense of violence if committed by an adult, found not guilty of the offense, or found not to be a delinquent child for committing an act that would be a felony or an offense of violence if committed by an adult, the date of an entry dismissing the charge, an entry declaring a mistrial of the offense in which the person is discharged, an entry finding that the person or child is not competent to stand trial, or an entry of a nolle prosequi, or the date of any other determination that constitutes final resolution of the case;
(e) A statement of the original charge with the section of the Revised Code that was alleged to be violated;
(f) If the person or child was convicted, pleaded guilty, or was adjudicated a delinquent child, the sentence or terms of probation imposed or any other disposition of the offender or the delinquent child.” (Oh. Rev. Code § 109.57(A)(2)(a)-(f))
Because these records are not considered public or publicly accessible, there is no presumption of openness. Additionally, neither statute nor administrative policy offer any special provisions for research access.
Rule 45, Subsection A of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio states: “Court records are presumed open to public access.” (Ohio Superintendence Ct. R. 45(A)) “Court record” means both a case document and an administrative document, regardless of physical form or characteristic, manner of creation, or method of storage.” (Ohio Superintendence Ct. R. 44(B))
Additionally, Rule 45 requires that personal identifiers must be omitted from case documents before they are filed with the clerk or submitted to the court. (Ohio Superintendence Ct. R. 45(D)) In such instances, the omitted information must be provided to the court in a separate document, and is presumably excluded from public access. Moreover, Rule 45 also allows for any party in a judicial proceeding to petition the court to have information related to them redacted from case files, and subsequently precluded from further disclosure; however, before making a determination on the petition, the court must consider and ensure that the benefits of restricting public access of that information outweighs the presumption of public access. If the court determines the restriction of public access to that information is appropriate, they must do so using the least restrictive means available. (Ohio Superintendence Ct. R. 45(E))
Rule 35 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio requires the state’s supreme court operate and maintain a centralized reporting or case management system. Its primary function is to assist the judiciary with recording and analyzing the performance of the state’s many courts and to produce annual statistical reports on their performance. While not necessarily a repository for public court records – each court of the state is responsible for retaining their own records and case files – the Ohio courts network operated by the state’s Supreme Court is intended to act as a centralized warehouse that facilitates the exchange of data and information by and between the courts of the state and their judicial partners. (Ohio Superintendence Ct. R. 34(A)(2))
Finally, any statistical reports that are ultimately created from information contained in the repository, which itself is not explicitly open to public inspection, shall be made available to the public. (Ohio Superintendence Ct. R. 37.06) The state does not have a publicly accessible online portal for accessing court records.
The Ohio Public Records Laws, also known as the Sunshine Laws, establishes rules around government bodies that are required to collect and maintain records and what records are exempt from public disclosure. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction adheres to the Sunshine Laws in its record collection, retention, and dissemination operations.
Department policy, Public Records, establishes a list of records that are exempt from public disclosure in accordance with Ohio Revised Code 149.43. Certain records that are exempt include: parole and probation, medical, educational, recovery services, offender records, and limited inmate/supervision records. The Public Records policy also requires that each facility have a record maintenance process that is aligned to their administrative needs and also serves to provide the public record access when requested. When making a record request, the requestor must describe in detail the information they are looking for. A person can make a request by mail, email, or fax, and there is no expectation that the requestor identify themselves nor explain the purpose of the request.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction does control an incarcerated persons record repository. The repository is referred to as the Offender Search. The Offender Search is subject to Ohio Revised Code 5120.66 | Internet database of inmate offense, sentence, and release information; "Laura's Law". The statute allows the department to publish corrections records onto the internet database. Some of the information that may be contained in those records includes, but is not limited to: the incarcerated person’s name; the offense the person was convicted of; the gender of the victim of the offense; the range of the possible imprisonment terms for the offense; the actual prison terms; and, the date when the individual will be eligible for parole. Members of the public may use the Offender Search.
The Department policy, Research Approval Process, creates rules for the cooperation with third parties who wish to research the department, its staff, and the individuals under supervision. It is the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections position to encourage outside researchers to conduct research that furthers criminal justice knowledge. To conduct research, an individual or entity must submit a proposal to the Human Subjects Research Review Committee for approval. Any research project using incarcerated individuals and department information must adhere to confidentiality standards.