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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in Illinois

Criminal records often create a negative impression of the integrity of a person. Most of the time, employers and other agencies conduct background checks on prospective business partners or employees. When a criminal record shows up, it could bar the chances of progression of the involved person in life in terms of employment, or career. In Illinois, all information about arrests, charges, court disposition, convictions, and corrections are documented in a system that is available for public inspection. Therefore, an opportunity to remove these records from public view may aid affected individuals. There are two ways to remove criminal records from public view: sealing or expunction. According to the Illinois Criminal Identification Act, 20 ILCS 2630/0.01, et seq., persons or entities who can request for sealing or expunction of criminal records are:

  • The persons listed in the record
  • The victims of the criminal record
  • Persons with a court order or an executive order

To expunge a record in Illinois is to destroy or obliterate all evidence of an official record. Expungement can be done upon request by the petitioner for eligible offenses. Under the provisions of, Class A misdemeanors and felony offenses and sex offenses are not eligible for expungement. Records of arrest and legal action before 18 years are also eligible for expungement under the same provisions aforementioned, the exception being first-degree murders and sex offenses.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

According to 20 ILCS 2630/5.2, there are differences between sealing records and the expunction of records. To seal a record according to Illinois statutes is to remove the record from the public. Expunction, on the other hand, involves destroying or eliminating the records from the system. Sealing and expunction are identical in that the records are invisible to the public and criminal history checks, but remain visible to the court or law enforcement agencies. The difference is that sealed records may be released by court order while expunged records cannot. An expunged record clears the holder of any responsibility to their criminal past.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How to Seal a Criminal Record in Illinois

The Criminal Identification Act lists the class 3 and 4 felonies as being eligible for sealing:

  • Possession of Cannabis (Marijuana) and other controlled substances
  • Violations under the Methamphetamine Precursor Control Act
  • Possession of controlled substances with intent to manufacture and deliver
  • Prostitution
  • Breaches under the Steroid Control Act;
  • Theft (retail or otherwise)
  • Dishonest practices
  • Falsification and other acts of forgery
  • Possession of larceny tools

Category 1 and 2 felonies do not qualify for sealing by the laws of the state. Most misdemeanors, however, do, with some exceptions:

  • Driving Under Influence (DUI)
  • Reckless driving for persons older than 25 years
  • Sexual offenses against a minor
  • Minor traffic offenses
  • Indecency in public
  • Felonious sexual practices
  • Patronizing a prostitute
  • Violation of protection orders
  • Violation of Animal protection rights, such as Dogfights
  • Domestic violence
  • Sex Offenses that qualify for registration under the Sex Offender Registration Act

The waiting period between a request to seal and the actual act of sealing depends on the type of offense. In Illinois, waiting periods range from zero through two or three years to 25 years. Completing education milestones, such as graduating from high school or getting a university degree, also qualifies the involved to have his or her records to be sealed.

Note that sealing requests take a shorter time to be processed than expunction. To seal a criminal record, follow these steps:

Request for copies of the records and have them certified. They may be available either the Circuit Court as a court disposition or as rap sheets with the Illinois State Police. Contact the Chicago Police Department if the arrest took place in Chicago:

Chicago Police Headquarters
3510 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL (312) 745-5508

  • Examine the records thoroughly to identify which of them are sealable. If possible, get the help of an attorney to do this. Note that multiple offenses will require separate applications.
  • Download and fill out the Expunction or Request to Seal Forms. Other forms provide more details of the application process on the website. 
  • Submit the completed forms to the Circuit Court of the county where the record was generated. If there are multiple counties involved, use the Additional Notice of Filing for Expunction or Sealing of Criminal Record. Prepare to pay a processing fee of not less than $10. Persons who cannot afford the court processing fees must fill out and submit the Application for Fee Waiver Form. Denied requests may be reviewed if the applicant requests reconsideration within 60 days from the denial date. If necessary, file an appeal to the Appellate Court of the state for a review.
  • The court clerk schedules a date for hearing and communicates it to the requester either in person or by mail. Attendance by the applicant at the hearing is COMPULSORY.
  • If the request is granted, the Circuit Court Judge issues an order to the Illinois State Police and other involved law enforcement agencies named in the application to seal the record. For persons seeking to seal prison records, additional certificates of relief issued by the Prisoner Review Board of the state can assist in the application. 

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in Illinois?

The Illinois Criminal Identification Act provides a list of offenses that are eligible for expunction. By the rule of thumb, all felony convictions and sexual offenses against a minor are ineligible for expunction. The same rules apply to DUIs, reckless driving, and driving with a revoked driver's license. Some of the eligible cases are:

  • Arrest records that led to no charges or, a dismissal of charges
  • Overturned convictions
  • Completed court probation for first-time offenses under the Illinois Controlled substances Act
  • Completed court supervision (court supervisions do not result in a conviction; therefore they can be expunged)

It takes much longer for expunction processes to complete in Illinois. Most of them take five years, while some may take as long as 25 years. Records that are eligible for immediate expunction are records that do not have any convictions listed.

How to Expunge Criminal Records in Illinois

The process of expunging criminal records in Illinois is the same as that of sealing records. Similarly, the forms are designed for both processes. It would require that the applicant restrict the completion of the forms to sections that apply only to expunction. Also, the waiting time differs from that of sealing records in that it is longer. Persons with criminal records that were generated before 17 years are said to have juvenile records, and they have a slightly different process for expunging their criminal records. For juvenile record expunction, use the Get Started Guide to Juvenile Expungement of Records available on the Court website.

Do Sealed Records Show up In Illinois Background Checks?

No. In Illinois, sealed records are invisible when criminal history checks are conducted. They are only accessible to the persons named in the record, and the law enforcement agencies of the state. However, unlike expunged records, sealed records are not entirely inaccessible. If an inquirer probes further and files a petition to unseal the record, it may be made available by court order or executive order. Also note that healthcare, childcare, and public safety agencies have a default unrestricted access to sealed records when conducting criminal history checks for current or prospective employees.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in Illinois?

Persons who can access sealed criminal records in the state include the parties involved in the case, their attorneys, and authorized staff of law enforcement agencies. Although most employers cannot access sealed records, healthcare, childcare, and security categories can.  Section 13 and 14 of the Criminal Identification Act allow index numbers of records sealed after official indexing to be retained in the system.

How to Obtain Sealed Records in Illinois

Members of the public can only access sealed records through a court order. Hospital, childcare, and public safety agencies have automatic permission to view sealed records when conducting background checks. Third parties can file a petition to challenge the court order to seal the records using their FOIA rights. Part of a citizen's rights to public records (5 ILCS 140/11) (from Ch. 116, par. 211) is to file a petition to the State Attorney for Injunctive or Declaratory Relief. If granted, the record is released to the petitioner by court order.

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