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. Effective January 1, 2020, many arrest and conviction records for marijuana possession are eligible for expungement.
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. (20 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 2630/5.2 (2018).)
If your record is expunged or sealed, in most cases you need not disclose your arrest or conviction to others, including potential employers. (20 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 2630/12 (2018).)
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 read the Criminal Expungement and Sealing section of the Office of the State Appellate Defender's website. It walks you step by step through the process of determining whether your record can be cleared.
If you were convicted of a crime in Illinois, your record typically cannot be expunged, but it may be eligible for sealing. (See below for information on marijuana convictions.)
Most misdemeanor and felony convictions qualify for sealing in Illinois, but some—including driving under the influence, domestic battery, animal care crimes, and most sex offenses—do not. And if your conviction required you to register under the Arsonist Registration Act, the Sex Offender Registration Act, or the Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registration Act, your record cannot be sealed until you are removed from the registry. Some convictions require a two- or three-year waiting period after the completion of your sentence before you can apply; other convictions can be sealed at any time. (See 20 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 2630/5.2(c) for the full list of ineligible convictions and required waiting periods.)
Once you have had a felony conviction sealed, you may not have any subsequent felony convictions sealed. And, if you are convicted of another felony after having a felony conviction sealed, the court can order the unsealing of any previously sealed felony conviction. (20 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 2630/5.2(c)(4) (2018).)
As mentioned above, the best way to find out whether your record can be sealed is to carefully read the materials found in the Criminal Expungement and Sealing section of the Office of the State Appellate Defender's website.
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.
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 that frequently changes, 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.