Overview of Illinois Criminal Expungements and Record Sealing
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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021
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If you have been arrested but never been convicted of a criminal offense (misdemeanor or felony or a municipal ordinance violation), Illinois law allows you to “expunge” your record. This means that your name will be removed from the public record. The court will order the arresting agency (for example, the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois State Police and the FBI) to return to you all original records of all arrests, original fingerprints and mug shots. Any internal computer records must be destroyed and removed from any public access system. The courthouse closes the file(s) so that the public cannot gain access; however, law enforcement agencies, the Department of Corrections, State’s Attorneys and other prosecutors can still consider your criminal record with regard to employment. The military also has access to such records.
Under state law, the following are not considered to be convictions and are therefore able to be expunged: Supervision, Nolle Prosequi (not prosecuted “NP”), Stricken Off with Leave to Reinstate (“SOL”), Finding of No Probable Cause (“FNPC”), Dismissed, Not Guilty, or successful completion of special first offender drug probation or TASC probation. Additionally, criminal records generated due to identity theft may be expunged. Juvenile offenses may also be expunged.
Even if you have been convicted of a criminal offense or a municipal ordinance violation, your records may still be eligible for something known as “sealing”. This means that your records are not returned or destroyed, but they remain confidential. The arresting agency (for example, Chicago Police), the Illinois State Police and the Clerk’s Office seal the record and remove your name from the electronic index. Government agencies can still access the file for limited purposes such as employment or sentencing for a later offense; however, only a judicial order can allow the public to view the record. For a criminal background check by a general prospective employer, sealing will be sufficient and your name cannot be publicly accessed at the courthouse.
Generally, no felony conviction can be sealed unless it is for a Class 4 drug or prostitution conviction and most misdemeanor convictions are sealed except convictions for a misdemeanor regarding violence or a sexual offense, DUI and other limited offenses. Additionally, in certain cases, your record may be sealed and then later expunged.
In Illinois, if your criminal record cannot be expunged or sealed, you can apply for a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities” or a “Certificate of Good Conduct”. To be eligible to receive either of these certificates, you must not have been convicted of two or more violent felonies. Anyone convicted of crimes of violence, criminal sexual offenses, or Class X felonies is ineligible. Specifically, a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities (CRD) creates a “presumption of rehabilitation” that must be given consideration by certain licensing boards. A Certificate of Good Conduct (CGC) shows that for employment purposes you are a law-abiding citizen and have been fully rehabilitated. It does not, however, create a presumption of rehabilitation like a CRD.
There are many myths surrounding criminal records (“rap sheets”). The most common is that after several years, your record is automatically cleared. The fact is that there is no such thing as an “automatic” expungement. Once you get arrested, you will have an arrest record, even if you were never charged, or if the case was dismissed, or even if you were found not guilty. This also applies to juvenile records.
There are many advantages to petitioning the court to have your record expunged or sealed. In Illinois, it is against the law for employers or potential employers (except those specifically allowed by law, such as law enforcement) to ask you whether you ever had any records expunged or sealed. When applying for most occupational licenses or certificates, you do not have to disclose your criminal record (unless legally required by law, such as when applying for a license to practice law). Additionally, an expungement or record sealing can improve your credit rating, help with housing and loan applications, and restore student loan eligibility.
For the law governing both expungment and sealing in Illinois you can refer to the “Criminal Identification Act (20 ILCS 2630). The full text of this Act can be found at https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=350&ChapAct=20%26nbsp%3BILCS%26nbsp%3B2630%2F&ChapterID=5&ChapterName=EXECUTIVE+BRANCH&ActName=Criminal+Identification+Act.
For more information on expunging Illinois criminal records, click on the following articles: