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Petitions for Certificate of Innocence: Frequently Asked Questions

It seems that every week we hear news stories about people who are wrongfully convicted of serious crimes and released from prison. The fact that so many innocent people spend years, if not decades, behind bars for crimes they did not commit is a tragedy. Even after a person leave prison, however, they should be able to sue the state for putting them in prison in the first place.

In Illinois, the first step in this process involves filing a Petition for Certificate of Innocence. If a court grants the Petition for Certificate of Innocence, the wrongly convicted person can bring a claim for damages against the state. The information below offers answers to some of the questions people may have about the Petition for Certificate of Innocence.

Who can file a Petition for Certificate of Innocence?

Under Illinois law, any person wrongfully convicted and sentenced to prison for one or more felonies can file a Petition for Certificate of Innocence. The petition must be filed in the circuit court of the county where the person was wrongfully convicted, with copies of the petition sent to the Illinois Attorney General and the appropriate State's Attorney.

What does a person need to prove in a Petition for Certificate of Innocence?

A person needs to prove that he or she was innocent by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of evidence means that it is more likely than not that the person was innocent. In most of these cases, an appeals court reverses the trial court's decision and orders a new trial. If the prosecution does not retry the case, or if the person is found not guilty in the new trial, they would meet the preponderance of evidence standard. Under Illinois law, if the law that the person was convicted of was found unconstitutional, this could also form the basis for a Petition for Certificate of Innocence.

How long can someone wait to file a Petition for Certificate of Innocence?

Under Illinois law, a person must bring this petition no later than two years after the underlying case was dismissed. In any of these cases, however, the sooner the person brings the petition, the better off they will be.

If you or someone you love was unjustly convicted of a crime, or if you face any type of serious criminal accusation, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can make a major difference. For years, people across the Chicagoland area have relied on attorney Steven L. Richards for tough, strategic representation. As part of his criminal defense practice, he handles the full range of post-conviction matters, including Petitions for Certificates of Innocence.

Source: Illinois Compiled Statutes (735 ILCS 5/2-702)

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Notable Results

  • Accusation: Attempt First Degree Murder
  • Facing: 30 years in prison at 85%
  • Result: Post-conviction petition granted
  • Accusation: Solicitation of a Prostitute, Obstructing Justice, Battery
  • Facing: 365 days in jail, loss of legal residence
  • Result: All charges but battery dropped, one year expungeable supervision
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