Using expungement and sealing to clear your criminal record in Illinois

Having a criminal record can significantly affect your life, as it can make it significantly harder to be hired, obtain housing or obtain a loan. In Illinois, there are certain procedures that you can take to clear your criminal past or limit its disclosure. Under the law, these procedures are called expungement and record sealing.

Expungement in Illinois

Under Illinois law, if criminal record is expunged, the record of it is destroyed by law enforcement. Only cases that were prosecuted by the State of Illinois may be expunged (i.e. out-of-state and federal cases are not affected).

Only those that have been arrested or been placed under supervision or probation may seek expungement. In other words, if you were convicted of a criminal offense, expungement is typically not available. Although the expungement law does not typically consider supervision as a conviction, expungement is not available if you received supervision for the following offenses:

  • Dog fighting
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Criminal sexual abuse of someone under 18

Once you have completed supervision or probation, there is a waiting period of 2-5 years before you may seek expungement. However, if your arrest resulted in no charges being files, an acquittal or dismissal of the charges, you may seek expungement immediately. It is important to seek an expungement in these cases, as the record of your arrest is not automatically removed.

Under Illinois law, it is illegal for employers to ask potential hires if they have been arrested on job applications. However, employers may ask if you have been convicted of a crime. Once you have successfully expunged the arrest, probation or supervision from your record, you may truthfully answer "no" to this question.

Record sealing

If you have been convicted of a crime, or do not qualify for expungement, it may be possible to have your criminal record sealed. Once a record is sealed, it cannot be accessed by potential employers or members of the public. However, the record remains accessible to law enforcement and employers in certain state-regulated industries (e.g. police officers, firefighters, hospitals and schools).

If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor (most felonies are not eligible for sealing), you may be eligible to petition the court to seal your record four years after the completion of your sentence. If you received supervision for certain misdemeanors, the waiting period is three years. However, record sealing is not available to those convicted of the following misdemeanors:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Certain sex crimes
  • Assault, battery or aggravated assault
  • Violations of the Humane Care for Animals Act
  • Reckless conduct

Speak to an attorney

Record sealing and expungement allows those with otherwise clean criminal records to escape the negative consequences an arrest or conviction can bring. Since the law in this area is complex and full of exceptions, it is wise to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney before proceeding. An attorney can advise you on your situation and work to maximize your chances of success.