There are times when an individual might want to erase a teenage misadventure or make an adult indiscretion disappear, and occasionally it is possible to alter the past, at least as far as the public record is concerned, through the process of expungement or sealing of official documents. Under Illinois law, both procedures are permitted, though expungement is reserved mostly for individuals who were accused but not convicted.

What Is Expungement?

Sealing records removes them from public view, preventing the majority of people from accessing the official information. Illinois permits this for conviction of certain offenses. Under expungement, which is allowed in cases where the arrest did not lead to a conviction, public records are destroyed or turned over to the person making the expungement request. Officially, it's as if the incident never happened. Either way, the information would not show up during most routine pre-employment background checks, and it is illegal for companies to ask applicants if they have had records expunged or sealed.

However, there is no guarantee that information never will be revealed—in fact, Illinois law allows exemptions that permit various law enforcement agencies and prosecutors access to sealed records.

Who Is Eligible for Expungement?

Illinois law allows expungement in several situations:

  • Any case where the outcome was something other than conviction, including an arrest without charges, a later dismissal of charges or an acquittal
  • First-time violations of minor drug-related laws
  • Offenders prosecuted in juvenile court
  • Recipients of certain pardons

In other situations, sealing is an option:

  • Felony convictions for prostitution and certain drug laws involved marijuana, methamphetamine or steroids
  • Ordinance and misdemeanor convictions, except for charges such as driving under the influence or anything that would require registration as a sex offender
  • Cases not expungeable due to a prior conviction

Waiting periods range from none in the case of dismissal or acquittal, to five years in some cases, including those involving domestic battery or sexual abuse.

What Information Must Be Submitted?

Any request for expungement or sealing in Illinois begins in the court in the county in which the charges are brought. Petitioners will need to provide the case number, the name of the arresting agency, the date of the arrest, the charge, the disposition of the case and the date of disposition. Petitioners who can't recall all the details can request a copy of their criminal records from the State Police Bureau of Identification. Completed forms, available online, also must be submitted.

It takes at least 90 days from the date of request to seal records, 30 to expunge. Some counties require petitioners to appear at hearings.

Other Alternatives

Illinois permits expungement if it is ordered as part of a pardon—technically, an "order of executive clemency." Those convicted of any offense can apply, and there is no waiting period after conviction, but pardons are rare. The application is filed with the state Prison Review Board.

Hiring an Attorney

This article is a general overview of Illinois expungement and sealing law. Consult a local attorney for advice about eligibility and how to proceed.

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