Clearing Your Criminal Record

CLEARING YOUR CRIMINAL RECORD
In days of yore if someone wanted to escape their past, they just moved to another state. Today, the internet makes that impossible. A criminal past can stop your job prospects cold. Is there anything you can do?

Illinois law provides three possible options: expungement, sealing and pardon.

EXPUNGEMENT:
Expungement enables a defendant to clear their criminal history as though it never happened. Figuring out whether your offense qualifies for expungement can be rather tricky. Generally, you may be eligible for an expungement if you do not have a conviction (because for example, your case was dismissed or you received supervision). There can be a waiting period before you may petition the court depending on the disposition of your offense.

Expungement involves filing a petition in the court that handled your criminal offense. After filing the Petition, the State and police have 60 days to object. If there are no objections, a judge may sign the order to expunge your records. The police then have another 60 days to comply. If there are objections, you may have to appear before the judge to explain why your petition should be granted. In some jurisdictions such as Chicago, a hearing is scheduled even if there are no objections. And sometimes, you will not learn of an objection until you attend the hearing.

While you do not necessarily need an attorney to file for expungement, an attorney can help prepare the paperwork properly and appear at any hearing to deal with any objections. Some clients find that having an attorney gives them peace of mind.

SEALING:
Sealing is the next best alternative to expungement. While your criminal record will still be available to law enforcement, it will not be available to the general public.

Again, it can be tricky determining whether your record qualifies for sealing, but generally sealing is available for certain types of convictions, particularly those for non-violent crimes. Sealing may even be available for some Class 3 and Class 4 felonies.

To seal your record you must petition the court where your offense was handled. The state and police have 60 days to object after which a judge may sign the order sealing your record. The police then have 60 days to comply. If there is an objection, you may be required to appear at a hearing to explain why your record qualifies for sealing. In some jurisdictions, including Chicago, you may need to appear at a hearing even if there are no objections. At times, you will not learn of an objection until you appear at the hearing.

While you do not necessarily need an attorney for the sealing process, an attorney can help prepare the paperwork properly and appear at any hearing to deal with any objections. Some clients find that having an attorney gives them peace of mind.

PARDON
If your record does not qualify for expungement or sealing, you may be able to seek a pardon from the governor. The pardon petition is a much more involved process. An attorney can be essential in presenting your case in its best possible light. Generally, it is best if some time has elapsed between your criminal offense and your pardon petition and if you can demonstrate that you have really turned your life around for the better.

The pardon process is not a quick fix. Governor Quinn has been working diligently through a backlog of cases left behind by Governor Blagojevich. Nevertheless, it may be some years before you get an answer to your petition. Decisions on granting pardons are confidential so you may not know why your petition was accepted or rejected, and you may have to try again after a one-year waiting period.