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Exploring Criminal Record Expungement

How and why an Illinois resident can get their criminal charges expunged or sealed

For Illinois residents, there are plenty of reasons to consider having your criminal record expunged or sealed—job searching and apartment hunting being two of the most common, due to background checks. “You never want a case, whether it’s recent or from the past, to affect your future opportunities,” says Illinois-based criminal defense attorney Matthew M. Fakhoury, who has handled thousands of expungements since founding Xpunge Chicago over a decade ago. “A common kind of situation that comes about involves employment. Somebody’s applying to get a job, especially in the weird times that we’re in, and suddenly an arrest comes back to haunt them from 15 years ago—some relatively minor indiscretion when they were in their late teens or in college.”

Fakhoury says sometimes people think their record will be clean if they were involved in a misdemeanor or felony case that was dismissed. “That’s a huge misconception,” he says. “There’s no such thing—in Illinois, at least—of an adult case being automatically expunged. So if you had a case, even if you went to court and it was dismissed, it will still show up on your criminal record for all to access. It’s considered public information.”

A recent expansion of Illinois expungement law has allowed more types of cases to be eligible for expungement or sealing. “Basically, the general rule is if your case was dismissed, or if you received a qualified probation—what we call a special probation—or if you received supervision, your case is eligible to be expunged,” says Fakhoury. “There are some exceptions, such as DUIs, domestic cases, and a few other types of cases, where you cannot get the case expunged. But any finding of not guilty, which is an acquittal or a dismissal, no matter what the charge was, is eligible to be expunged.”

What the Expungement Process Involves, and What You Need

If you reach out to an attorney to begin the expungement process, be prepared to share the basics on your case—which police department arrested you, the date it happened, and how the case turned out, and if you have anything else on your record (criminal convictions, arrests, juvenile records, etc.) or any other pending cases. “And lastly, where did this case occur?” Fakhoury adds. “Did it occur in Chicago? Did it occur in one of the suburbs? Which county did it occur in? All of those will factor into what the attorney needs to do, where he needs to file, and the timeline of when this will get resolved, because every county is a little different. Even Cook County has several jurisdictions.”

Some jurisdictions require a hearing; others don’t. In most jurisdictions, an average of three-to-five months will pass from the time the paperwork is filed until you get an answer or a hearing before the court. However, Fakhoury says, Chicago courts take substantially longer—12 or 18 months before the petition to expunge is processed. “I used to be a prosecutor in Cook County, and ironically, I was doing expungements,” he says. “Even when I was a prosecutor, there was a delay of about 9 or 10 months. Now it’s well over that. So I think Chicago is just overwhelmed, and they have less resources and staff.”

After a successful expungement, you may legally answer no when a job or housing application asks if you’ve ever been arrested. “That’s a common question,” Fakhoury says. “People say, ‘Am I lying if I answer no? Will there be a problem?’ And legally, no.”

The Difference Between Expungement and Sealing

While both expungement and sealing will prevent the public from accessing your record, there’s a key difference. “Under the law, expungement means to erase or delete the record—from the court records, from the local police department that arrested you, and also through Illinois State Police,” says Fakhoury.

Meanwhile, sealed records not deleted. They’re hidden from the public, but the government still has access to them.

For more information on criminal law, see our overview of criminal defense or consider reaching out to a criminal defense lawyer to discuss your arrest record and how to seek a clean slate.

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