Like most people, you’ve probably made a few mistakes in your past. Maybe you were charged with a relatively minor crime and given court supervision instead of a “conviction,” an incredibly common occurrence. You might believe that these events from years ago won’t come back to haunt you, but that may not be the case. Past arrests, even if they did not result in convictions or formal charges, remain on your record and visible to potential employers unless you actively seek to have them removed. This misconception can have lasting impacts on your life, ranging from lost employment opportunities to an inability to receive financial aid. The only way to ensure that a record, however minor, does not affect you indefinitely is to petition the Court to expunge or seal your record under Section 5.2 of the Criminal Identification Act.
What is the difference between expunging and sealing a record?
Expungement means that your arrest record is officially removed from the files of the arresting authority (i.e. the police) and your record will no longer appear on background checks. If you have ever been convicted of a criminal offense, you cannot expunge your record, but you may still be able to seal your record.
Sealing makes your criminal record invisible from most of the public. Law enforcement agencies can still see sealed records, and employers required by law to conduct background checks (such as hospitals or schools) can still see sealed felony convictions, but they cannot see sealed misdemeanor convictions or any cases not resulting in convictions.
What kinds of offenses can be expunged or sealed?
Expungement is available when the final outcome of your case was something other than a conviction. This includes arrests where no charges were filed, charges that were dismissed, acquittals, findings of not guilty, and most cases where you received court supervision. Certain first-time offender drug probation offenses are also eligible for expungement. Criminal convictions, DUI offenses, and certain sexual offenses are not eligible for expungement, even if the offenses resulted in court supervision.
If your record is not eligible for expungement, it may still be sealed in certain situations depending on the offense and outcome of your case. Most felony convictions cannot be sealed, with a few exceptions. Many misdemeanor offenses can be sealed, but several misdemeanor convictions cannot be sealed, including DUI convictions and crimes of violence such as Domestic Battery and Criminal Sexual Abuse.
As of January 1, 2013, a new amendment to Illinois law introduced the Offender Initiative Program to make it easier for non-violent offenders to expunge their records and get back into the workforce. This amendment allows felony convictions for certain non-violent offenses, including retail theft and possession of a controlled substance, to be removed from your record after successful completion of the program. If you have been convicted of a non-violent felony offense, this new program may be your best bet for clearing your record and moving on with your life.
Do I still have to disclose arrests and convictions on a job application if my record is expunged?
No. If you successfully expunge or seal your record, your arrests and convictions are no longer part of the public record and you no longer need to disclose them.
How do I know my records are eligible for record-sealing or expungement?
The rules and exceptions on what offenses are eligible for expungement and sealing can be complicated to understand. If you are in Chicago or nearby communities and have questions about your civil rights, please contact our experienced attorneys for help you securing a better future.