Having a criminal record is a difficult burden to bear. Even if you were not convicted, any arrests made or charges brought against you remain on that record for everyone to see. It is a suspicious and embarrassing “black mark” on your record that can’t help but make people look at you in a different light.
Unfortunately, background checks are common for employment, housing, college, and loan applications, and any sign of a criminal record severely compromises these prospects. A criminal record may even compromise your dating life, as many individuals now run background checks on prospective dates.
The bottom line is that anyone with a computer can access past transgressions that you’d rather put behind you – often to devastating effect.
Fortunately, in many cases it may be possible to get rid of your criminal record or seal it from public knowledge through record expungement or sealing, respectively. In order to successfully seal or expunge your record, it is important to fully understand how each process works in Illinois. You also need to be aware of which crimes are eligible for sealing or expungement, and what conditions must be met to have them removed from your criminal record.
Defining Record Expungement and Record Sealing
In the process of expungement, your record is either physically destroyed or returned to you, and your name is removed from all official indexes and state records. In this case, your record is not accessible by any form of background check, and you can legally deny or fail to acknowledge having been arrested or charged for the expunged crime.
In record sealing, your records are physically and/or electronically maintained, but are unavailable to the public without a court order. Further, your name is removed from any official index or public record. However, law enforcement, the court system, and a few prospective employers will still have access to the records.
Functional Differences of Record Expungement vs. Sealing
Both record expungement and sealing make your criminal record inaccessible to the general public and to most background checks, eliminating many of the devastating consequences of having a criminal record.
However, there are a few important differences to be aware of. It is also important to know what you are required to disclose on employment applications if your record has been sealed or expunged.
An expunged record is completely eliminated, and is not detectable by any means. A sealed record is not available to the public and will not show up on most background checks, but may still be visible to certain employers.
In most cases, you are not required to disclose expunged or sealed crimes on employment applications. However, you are required to disclose your prior criminal record if applying to a hospital or care facility, a school or government agency, or to the military.
Generally we advise speaking to an attorney before applying for employment with a sealed or expunged record, as he or she can give you a rundown of how to answer these questions legally.
Who Qualifies for Sealing or Expungement?
Sealing or expungement may be possible for many different crimes, although several years of good behavior are often required before you are eligible.
Expungement of Charges that Were Not Convicted
If your charges ended in any of these results, your record can be expunged:
- Stricken with leave
- Finding of no probable cause
- Charges dismissed
Misdemeanor Convictions That Can Be Expunged
The following misdemeanors can be expunged five years after the crime was committed:
- Criminal sexual abuse
- Domestic battery
- Failure of scrap dealer to keep records
- Displaying false insurance
- Suspended registration for non-insurance
- Operating an uninsured motor vehicle
Felony Convictions That Can Be Expunged
The following felonies can be expunged five years after completing second chance probation:
- Class 3 theft or retail theft
- Class 4 criminal damage to property
- Class 4 theft
- Class 4 possession of methamphetamine
- Class 4 possession of a controlled substance
Felony Convictions That Can Be Sealed
The following felonies can be sealed three years after completing your probation, parole or sentence:
- Class 3 burglary tools
- Class 3 forgery
- Class 3 deceptive practice
- Class 3 theft or retail theft
- Class 4 possession of cannabis or controlled substance
- Class 4 prostitution
Crimes that Cannot Be Expunged or Sealed
There are a few crimes that cannot be expunged or sealed under any condition. These include:
- Distribution of harmful material
- Pimping or solicitation of prostitution
- Public indecency
- Indecent solicitation of an adult
- Dog fighting
- Sex crimes committed against a minor
How to Get Your Record Sealed or Expunged
The State of Illinois offers a number of resources to help the accused or convicted determine if they are eligible for record expungement or sealing. However, this can often be a lengthy and deceptively complex process.
To maximize your chance of getting rid of your criminal record for good, we recommend getting in touch with a reputable Chicago defense attorney with a solid track record of successful record expungements and sealings. He or she will be familiar with the system, and can leverage this knowledge and experience to maximize your chance of a favorable outcome and make the process faster and less painful.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.