Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Illinois

Learn what criminal records and convictions qualify for expungement or sealing in Illinois.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated January 26, 2024

Illinois offers several methods for expunging and sealing adult criminal records, which are different processes. Each process comes with different eligibility requirements. Illinois has one of the most expansive record-clearing laws in the nation, but it's complex.

This article provides an overview of the adult record-clearing processes. For information on clearing juvenile records, check out this link.

What Does It Mean to Get a Record Expunged or Sealed in Illinois?

In Illinois, expunging and sealing a criminal record are two different things. Expungement applies primarily to criminal records that didn't result in a conviction or where a conviction was reversed, vacated, or pardoned. Only a few types of convictions may be expunged. Sealing applies to a broader range of criminal records, including many convictions.

Expunged records must be physically destroyed or returned to the person. While the court can maintain the records, it must remove the person's name from all public records. Expunged records are essentially erased.

Sealed records are not destroyed but are kept confidential—in other words, they are hidden from public view. Law enforcement and the courts can still see the record, but most employers will not have access to the record. However, if an employer is legally required to conduct a background check, it will have access to sealed felonies.

Why go through the hassle? Getting a criminal record expunged or sealed can make it easier to get a job, housing, or loan. In Illinois, employers are prohibited from "ask[ing] if an applicant has had any records expunged or sealed."

(20 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 2630/5.2, 2630/12, 2630/13 (2024).)

What Criminal Records Are Eligible for Expungement in Illinois?

Even if an arrest or charge doesn't lead to a conviction, the records don't go away. In most instances, the cleared person will need to ask the court to expunge their record. Illinois law also permits some sentences and convictions to be expunged.

Records that may be expunged in Illinois include:

  • arrest records that did not result in a conviction (including dismissed charges, charges never filed, and charges resulting in acquittal)
  • reversed or vacated convictions
  • certain misdemeanor or class 4 felony cannabis convictions
  • certain successfully completed sentences for court supervision or qualified probation after finishing a wait period (of two or five years depending on the offense)
  • pardoned convictions authorized for expungement, and
  • convictions where the defendant was an honorably discharged veteran who received a certificate of expungement eligibility from the Prisoner Review Board.

A person who has any pending criminal charges is not eligible for expungement. Minor traffic offenses cannot be expunged (except if released without charges). The following court supervision records also can't be expunged: reckless driving (age 25 or older), DUIs, and sexual offenses against a minor.

What Criminal Records Can Be Sealed in Illinois?

Many misdemeanor and felony convictions qualify for sealing in Illinois after a three-year wait period. The three-year clock starts after the completion of the person's last sentence. (The three years will be waived if the person received an educational degree during supervision.) A person can also seal arrest records not resulting in a conviction at any time and orders of supervision two years after the person's last sentence is done.

Ineligible Conviction Records

Examples of convictions that cannot be sealed include:

  • minor traffic offenses
  • DUIs
  • domestic battery
  • violation of an order of protection or no-contact order
  • sex offenses that require registration
  • dog fighting and animal cruelty offenses, and
  • convictions requiring registration under the Arsonist Registration Act or Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registry (unless registration has expired).

Ineligible Persons

Anyone with pending charges is not eligible to have their record sealed. Also, a person can only have felony convictions sealed once. Subsequent felony convictions cannot be sealed, and the judge can issue an order unsealing their prior felony convictions.

(20 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 2630/5.2(c) (2024).)

How to Get a Criminal Record or Conviction Cleared in Illinois?

A person will need to fill out and file several forms to request expungement or sealing of criminal records. The Illinois Courts provide these forms and instructions online. Court filing fees may also apply unless the person qualifies for a fee waiver based on income guidelines.

The person must file the forms with the circuit clerk in the county where the arrest occurred or charges were filed, as well as provide notice to the law enforcement and prosecuting attorney offices involved in the case. If either office objects to expungement or sealing, the court must schedule a hearing.

Record eligibility does not necessarily mean the court will grant the expungement or sealing request. The court makes the final call on whether to grant or deny the request. A judge may consider any objections filed and the person's criminal history and employment history, among other factors. (Unpaid court debt cannot be considered.)

(20 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 2630/5.2 (2024).)

Getting Legal Help

The Illinois Courts' website has forms and information online that you can fill out and file on your own. The following agencies and organizations also provide helpful information on expungement and sealing: Illinois State Appellate Defender Office, Illinois Legal Aid Online, Prisoner Review Board, and New Leaf Illinois (cannabis only). The laws are complex, though. If you feel overwhelmed by the process, consult an attorney who practices in the area of criminal record sealing or expungement.

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