A criminal record is not a good thing to have. In fact, one mistake made can follow you around forever. It can impact various aspects of your life like employment or even finding a place to live.
The good news is that Illinois has expungement laws, and many people are eligible to take advantage of them. This allows you to clear your criminal record. It will no longer be visible to those doing background searches, such as employers.
Here’s what you need to know about expungement in Illinois: who qualifies for it and how you can make it happen with your own criminal record.
Expungement Versus Sealing
One thing that’s important to understand from the get-go: though expungement and record sealing are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing.
Expungement and sealing get confused, because they both remove records from public view in many instances.
However, if a record is sealed, then it is simply hidden from public view. It can still be viewed by future employers and law enforcement agencies.
Expungement, on the other hand, basically erases your criminal record, as if it was never there in the first place. Expungement is the more comprehensive option – if your criminal history qualifies, that is.
Who Qualifies for Expungement?
While expungement is a great tool to clear your criminal history, it’s not available to everyone. Only certain crimes qualify to be expunged.
Not every conviction on your criminal record qualifies for expungement, including fines paid, probation, and time spent in jail. If your criminal record includes any of those things, then you may want to explore your options in regards to sealing your criminal record.
So, what does qualify for expungement? Some circumstances qualify for immediate expungement in Illinois, such as:
- Convictions that have been reversed or vacated
- Charges for a crime for which you were never convicted
- Crimes for which you were given a pardon by the governor
Some types of supervision by the court are also eligible for expungement. It cannot be supervision related to reckless driving, a DUI, or a sexual offense perpetrated against a child.
Some types of supervision will require a waiting period of two years before you can apply for an expungement. Make sure to consult with an attorney on the timing of your expungements. You’ll want to apply after the correct amount of time has passed.
You can also be granted expungements for probation in some circumstances. Once again, this isn’t an option if you’ve been convicted of a crime, nor can the crimes for which you were on probation involve reckless driving, sexual offenses against a child, or driving under the influence.
Furthermore, any probation related to drug crimes cannot be granted. Additionally, a period of five years must pass before you can petition the court for expungement in cases that do qualify.
Basically, you may qualify for expungement if:
- You were charged with a crime but not convicted
- Charges were dropped or dismissed
- You were found guilty of certain misdemeanors
- You were put on probation and successfully completed it
In any of these cases, you may qualify for expungement. It’s in your best interest to discuss your case with an attorney to understand your options.
How to Expunge Your Record
If you do qualify, getting your record expunged is fairly straightforward. You must:
- Gather all your records, including police reports and court documents
- Pay a fee with the circuit clerk in the county of your records
- File a petition with that court
After you’ve completed these steps, the circuit clerk will serve a notice of the petition to the prosecutor or state’s attorney that prosecuted your case. They also serve notices to the state police, the agency that arrested you, and the counsel for the local government unit that made your arrest.
They can file an objection to the expungement of your records if they wish within 60 days of being served.
A hearing is then held by a judge or, if there’s no objection, a judge may simply grant your petition for expungement. It’s important to note that, even if you qualify, it’s ultimately up to the court to grant your expungement–or not. They can deny it for any reason they see fit.
Expungement is a great tool for people to take control of their lives again, but it’s not without snags. Understanding how to qualify and then going through the process can be complicated, which is why it’s best to engage an attorney to ensure it’s done right.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by Avvo (2013 and 2018), SuperLawyers (2015-2020), The National Trial Lawyers, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.