January 15, 2013
AP Legal Affairs Writer
COLUMBUS — Criminal background checks processed by the attorney general’s office under a new state law no longer include information about arrests and charges that didn’t result in convictions. But the changes have some officials worried that employers are being given a false sense of security about applicants.
In reaction, the state’s criminal investigation agency will begin warning employers this week that background check information only includes convictions and guilty pleas.
The law was designed to make it easier for ex-offenders to find work after paying their debt to society.
It shields information about individuals who have been arrested but not convicted, information that used to be included in the reports. That is affecting three categories of people: juveniles convicted of serious crimes that aren’t required to be reported, adults with recent arrests whose cases haven’t been concluded and adults who years ago violated their bail conditions and fled to avoid prosecution.
“It’s giving that prospective employer a peace of mind about someone they shouldn’t have,” Steve Raubenolt, deputy superintendent at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, told The Associated Press.
He said in recent months the bureau has processed background checks for an applicant to a police department with two drunken driving arrests and an applicant to a hospital with a pending murder charge in California that was never closed because she was deemed mentally incompetent. Both had to be reported as having no criminal record.
Attorney General Mike DeWine said Tuesday that he has a list of “horror stories” of background checks, mainly for juveniles, involving serious crimes that under the law can’t be reported. The law says only juvenile convictions for murder, aggravated murder and sex crimes where a juvenile was labeled a sex offender can be reported.
DeWine cited the case of a county children’s service agency that requested a background check on someone who turned out to have a 2006 juvenile rape conviction. That information couldn’t be reported because he wasn’t labeled a sex offender.
“From a common-sense point of view, if I was looking for a foster parent or looking for someone to work with children or to be with children, I would want to know whether they had been convicted of rape,” DeWine said.
DeWine plans to ask lawmakers soon to fix the problem. He’s also asking county clerks of court and probate courts to report on the conclusion of all cases as quickly as possible.
Under the new law, processing cases where someone was arrested but not convicted has to be done by hand, which is also creating a backlog of background checks and costing taxpayers. The agency has racked up about $30,000 in overtime handling those checks since the law took effect last year. Background checks that once took 20 days are now requiring as long as three months.
The backlog caught the attention of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, where background checks have gone from days to weeks, said spokeswoman Tama Davis.
That may be an issue in Cincinnati, where the state’s fourth and last casino opens in March with about 600 employees still to be hired, Davis said. The agency is confident it will hit its hiring deadlines, she said.
The bill’s sponsor said he caught wind of the attorney general’s concerns late in the process last year and is open to revisions, particularly when it comes to people who jumped bond.
Lawmakers never intended to reward people “who never showed up and faced the music,” said state Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican.
Cleveland Democrat Shirley Smith disagreed, saying there’s no reason to change the law, which is serving the purpose it was meant to.
“We shouldn’t rush to judgment and prohibit a person from going to work when they have not been convicted,” she said. “I don’t think we should say a person should not get a chance at employment just because they’re waiting for a court date.”