A criminal record can be a black mark on your reputation. It can also jeopardize career, housing and educational opportunities. Because of the dire consequences of having a conviction on your record, many people are interested in seeking an expungement or sealing of their record. A skilled Illinois criminal defense attorney familiar with these processes can greatly increase your chances of success.
What is Expungement?
Expungement is a process by which a single criminal conviction or arrest is actually cleared from your record. If a conviction is expunged, it will be as if it never happened. It will disappear, so when background checks are run, nothing will show up. If successful, you also do not have to disclose this conviction to potential employers, landlords, professional licensing boards or higher education institutions. It is difficult to expunge a conviction or arrest, however, and there are circumstances in which your record cannot be cleared in Illinois. These include:
- Felony convictions - with exceptions for some Class 4 felonies like possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance and prostitution
- Violent misdemeanors
- DUI - even if you only received court supervision, unless the charge was dismissed or you were acquitted
- Federal convictions
- Out-of-state convictions
- Multiple convictions - an exception being if you are in the process of seeking an expungement (sometimes called an "expunction") and are arrested for a different offense
- Traffic tickets
- Orders of protection
Convictions occurring less than two years prior to an expungement application - this requirement stretches to five years for Section 10, Section 40-10 and Section 410 drug possession offense convictions that resulted in probation
What Does it Mean to Seal Your Record?
Sealing your record has essentially the same effect on your record as expungement as it applies to the general public. For example, potential employers will not be able to see a sealed conviction, but law enforcement agencies and certain other governmental divisions can access them via court order. Some convictions and arrests cannot be sealed without a pardon from the governor and a four-year waiting period. These include:
- Dog fighting
- Patronizing a prostitute
- Aggravated assault or battery
- Criminal sexual abuse
- Violation of an order of protection or the Humane Care of Animals Act
- Any committed offense or attempted offense that would, if convicted, result in the offender's registration as a sex offender
While you can technically seek an expungement or sealing of your record alone, you will greatly increase your chances of success with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact one in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.
Seeking a Pardon (Clemency) From the Governor
Certain convictions and arrests (for the offenses listed above) cannot be expunged or sealed in Illinois without the governor's pardon (or the President's pardon for a federal matter). Obviously, the governor does not just dole these out like candy. You are much more likely to receive an expungement or have your record sealed than to be pardoned. In spite of the hurdles, though, if you think you were wrongly convicted, charges against you were later dropped or you were acquitted, it is important to note that you will still face the negative consequences associated with having a criminal record, namely the aforementioned impact on your career, the opportunity to seek professional licensure, education (a criminal record will likely affect your eligibility for student loans and grants to finance your education) and housing opportunities.
The process of seeking a pardon is similar to the other methods of clearing your record, but there are distinctions. The process of seeking clemency from the governor is as follows:
- Submitting a petition to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board
- Having a hearing before the board - while this step is optional, you might increase your chances of success if you can make a compelling argument in person; oftentimes impassioned pleas made in person are more effective than those made on paper
- Waiting for the board to make a recommendation to the Governor
- Waiting for the Governor to make a decision - there is no statutory timeframe for this decision and, unfortunately, you just have to wait it out; you cannot submit a new petition while one is pending
- If necessary, submitting a new petition (if yours is denied) after the mandatory one-year waiting period
As with expungement and the sealing of your record, you could certainly choose to navigate the process on your own, but there are attorneys who have the special skill and the tenacity to bolster your case and increase the likelihood that your request will be granted.