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This article aims to answer the following questions regarding the expungement and sealing of criminal records in Illinois.  

Mistakes happen, and you don’t have to let your criminal record define you – you can get a fresh start. Moving past criminal convictions when possible is one way to do that. There are two methods of trying to put criminal convictions behind you in Illinois. Those two methods are criminal record expungement and criminal record sealing.  

What is expungement in Illinois?

Expungement is a legal process in which you request the court to erase your criminal record. You do so by filing a petition with the court.  

If the court in your expungement case grants your petition, the agencies that have your records will destroy them and return them to you. Your criminal conviction records will be apparent because there will be nothing for anyone to find. You will not even have to tell people that you had a criminal record – as it will be like it never even happened in the first place.  

What is Criminal Record Sealing?

Criminal record sealing is a legal process. You ask the court to make your records private and not easily searchable by the public. That means would typically mean that people such as landlords, creditors, and most employers will not be able to see them.  

Your criminal history will still be readily available to some select people, like those working in the criminal justice system and law enforcement. Sealed criminal records are also viewable by the military and some employers, e.g., healthcare. However, your criminal records will not be available to the general public. They will not turn up on routine background checks that are performed.  

What is the difference between Expungement and Criminal Record Sealing?

The most significant distinction between the two is expungement. The records are destroyed and are as if they did not exist. With criminal record sealing, they still exist; just who has access to them has been restricted.  

Is Sealing Felonies Better Than Expungement?

In general, you are not able to expunge a felony in Illinois. There are some exceptions – such as for veterans. For most people with felonies, expungement is not even an option; sealing is the only option for them to clean up their criminal histories. So, in that sense, sealing is better than having your unaltered criminal history out there for the public to view.  

Is There Any Offense That Has Special Considerations?

Yes, typically drug offenses that a person is asking to be expunged or sealed, the Judge would like to see proof that you completed an approved drug program. That proof must usually accompany your petition for the Judge to grant the request.  


What Is the Difference Between Expungement and Criminal Record Sealing?

The most considerable distinction between the two is expungement. The records are destroyed and are as if they did not exist. With criminal record sealing, they still exist; just who has access to them has been restricted.  


What if You Have Criminal Records in More Than One County in Illinois to Expunge or Seal?

It would be nice if the court paperwork to be filed could be a one-size-fits-all for this situation. However, for people with criminal records in more than one county in Illinois, any paperwork filed regarding expungement or sealing has to be filed individually in each relevant county. So, if you had a case dismissed in Cook County and Rock Island County, you would have to file expungement paperwork in both counties. Additionally, the relevant State’s Attorney for the corresponding charge can object, so it must be done in the corresponding county.  

Are You Able to Get Pending Cases Off Your Record?

You are not currently able to get any pending cases off your criminal record. The two legal processes available to people in Illinois require some kind of resolution. You have to wait for an outcome before the court clears your record, even if the pending case prevents you from getting a job or getting approved by a landlord.  


That means your case has to be dismissed, the charges have to be dropped, or a court must find you guilty or not guilty before you can ask to clear your record. And if you’re found guilty of a crime, you must wait until a certain amount of time has passed since you completed your sentence before you can ask the court to clear your record.  

What Can an Employer Ask Me About My Criminal Record in Illinois?

Employers do not get to ask you just anything about your criminal history. Employers are not legally allowed to ask you about:  

  • Criminal history where you were arrested that never resulted in a criminal conviction  
  • Anything related to your juvenile criminal record  
  • Your sealed or expunged records  

When Can Employers Ask You About Your Criminal Record?


Employers are legally allowed to ask you about your criminal record if you are applying for a job that requires a fingerprint-based background check—E.g., healthcare organizations, the military, and typically schools.  


What if an Employer Asks You Questions About Sealed or Expunged Records Anyway?

Suppose an employer asks you questions about information about a sealed or expunged record. In that case, you can contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights to file a complaint.  

When is it not Appropriate to Use the Legal Process of Expungement or Seal a Criminal Record?  

Suppose there is a criminal history of an arrest that was legitimately not you but someone impersonating you. If the arrest was linked to your personal information, you should not use expungement or record sealing. There is a separate, distinct legal process for that particular circumstance.  


What Rules Apply for Criminal Records to be Expunged?

In Illinois, what criminal records can be expunged is set out by  statute. The main factor that can be expunged is arrests or criminal charges that did not result in a criminal offense conviction.

Eligibility for any form of removal?

Not all criminal cases are eligible for expungement or criminal record sealing. To find out whether either option is available to you. You and your attorney will need to complete a criminal record review of your history. So that after the review, the criminal records will be examined for the following:  

  • Your arrest date  
  • The name of the police department that arrested you  
  • The official charge  
  • The disposition of the case or outcome of your case  
  • The sentence you received  
  • The date you completed your sentence  


In regards to expungement, you are looking to see if the case was:  

  • Dismissed  
  • You were found not guilty, or you were acquitted  
  • You were pardoned  
  • You were released without any criminal charges  
  • A vacated or reversed the conviction  
  • Completed court supervision  
  • Completed for qualified probation.  


What is not eligible for expungement?  

  • Any federal conviction or conviction outside of Illinois  
  • You have not completed sentences, including parole, probation, or anything with court supervision.  
  • Minor traffic offenses    
  • Court supervision for sexual offenses against a minor  
  • Court supervision for driving under the influence  

Are You An Honorable Discharged Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?

If you are, you may be eligible to expunge your conviction of particular non-violent Class 3 and Class 4 Felonies.  

Things that cannot be expunged; are sex offenses, violent crimes, drunk driving, and gun crimes.  

When Can You File for An Expungement?

How long you have to wait to file for an expungement depends on the outcome of the case per the following;  

  • If your charge was acquitted or the case was dismissed, you can request to expunge your record immediately.  
  • Suppose you were sentenced to supervision by the court. In that case, you must usually wait until at least two years have passed since you have completed your supervision.  
  • If you were sentenced to special probation, you must usually wait until at least five years have passed from the termination of your special probation.  

What are you looking for with a Criminal History for An Expungement?  

When a criminal history is obtained and reviewed, the essential item being looked at is the case’s outcome. These outcomes are typically displayed as codes, sometimes with explanation and sometimes without. The criminal history report will include these codes. The following codes are eligible for expungement.  


What criminal records can someone get sealed?

If you do not qualify for expungement, you may still qualify for criminal record sealing.  

What is eligible for a criminal record seal?  

  • Felony traffic offenses that were reduced to an eligible misdemeanor  
  • Convictions for most misdemeanors  
  • Convictions for most felonies  
  • Misdemeanors conviction of public indecency  


What is ineligible for a criminal record seal?  

  • Any reckless driving conviction  
  • Any Driving under the influence conviction  
  • Any Domestic battery conviction  
  • Any felony conviction of public indecency  
  • Any conviction of soliciting or patronizing a prostitute  
  • Any conviction that requires that you register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration Act  
  • Any conviction for dogfighting  
  • Any conviction of a Class A misdemeanor under the Humane Care for Animals Act  

Suppose you have had a previous felony conviction that was successfully sealed, and you were subsequently convicted of another felony later. In that case, you will not be granted another criminal record seal on another felony conviction.  

What is the Process for Expunging and or Sealing your Criminal Records?

The process works as follows:  

  • First, a petition is filed with the court and a filing fee is paid.  
  • The State’s Attorney in the relevant county will be able to review your petition and decide whether or not they object to the request you are making.  
  • If there is an objection, the State’s Attorney will file a written recommendation against your request that the Judge will view.  
  • You can request a hearing if the State’s Attorney objects to pleading your case.  

Suppose there is an objection or no objection. In that case, your petition will be reviewed by a Judge who will decide whether your request should be granted.  

If the Judge grants your request:  

With an expungement: the Judge will issue an order ordering law enforcement agency to remove the offending material to be expunged  

With a record sealing request: the Judge will issue an order to seal the relevant criminal records making them not easily accessible to the general public.  

If the Judge denies your request:  

Nothing on your criminal records changes at all. It is all still easily searchable by the general public. You can appeal the Judge’s decision by filing a motion for reconsideration, but that includes further costs to do so.  

However, this article did provide an overview of Illinois expungement and criminal record sealing procedures. A criminal conviction can have a long and profound impact on your life. If you are not found guilty, you should be free of any adverse effects it has on your personal life.

Even if you were found guilty and served your time and the appropriate amount of time has passed, you should be free of the negative stigma of criminal history. Take steps to clear your criminal history today. If you have any questions regarding Illinois’s expungement and criminal record sealing procedures or your particular case, contact one of our experienced lawyers at (630) 324-6666.  

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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