In Illinois, “expunging” and “sealing” a criminal record are two different things. If you have never been convicted of a crime or violated a municipal ordinance, you may be eligible to have your record expunged. If you have been convicted, you may be able to have your records sealed.
Expunged records will be physically destroyed or returned to you. All mention of your name will be removed from public criminal records. Sealed records are not destroyed, but are kept confidential. The general public will not usually have access to your sealed record, but law enforcement agencies will still be able to see it.
If your record is expunged or sealed, in most cases you need not disclose your arrest or conviction to others, including potential employers.
Expungement or Sealing If You Were Not Convicted of a Crime
If you were arrested for a crime, or arrested and charged with a crime but not convicted, your record may be eligible for expungement or sealing. It is always best to have your record expunged. But remember, to qualify for expungement, you must never have been convicted of a crime.
To find out whether your arrest record can be expunged or sealed, the best thing to do is obtain the packet called How to Clear Your Illinois Criminal Record, available from the Office of the State Appellate Defender. It walks you step by step through the process of determining whether or not your record can be cleared.
Expungement or Sealing If You Were Convicted of a Crime
If you were convicted of a crime in Illinois, your record cannot be expunged, but it may qualify for sealing.
Misdemeanor convictions. Some misdemeanor convictions qualify for sealing in Illinois, but many -- including driving under the influence, assault, battery, and most sex offenses -- do not.
Felony convictions. The only felony convictions eligible for sealing in Illinois are certain drug or prostitution offenses.
As mentioned above, the best way to find out whether your record can be sealed is to obtain and carefully read How to Clear Your Illinois Criminal Record.
For misdemeanor or felony convictions that do not qualify for sealing, the only way to clear your record is to receive a pardon from the governor. The pardon must specifically authorize the expungement of your record. You can learn more about pardons by visiting the State of Illinois Prisoner Review Board website.
Getting Legal Help
The Illinois law governing expungement and sealing of criminal records, including which offenses may or may not be cleared, is contained in the Criminal Identification Act. You can find it in Chapter 20, Section 2630/5.2 of the Illinois Statutes. It is a very complicated law, and judges do not always interpret it consistently.
Even though Illinois offers good self-help materials to assist you in cleaning up your criminal record (available through the links above), you may have a better experience if you don’t try to go it alone. A good criminal law attorney can assess your particular circumstances and help you get the best results.