March 3, 2014

For purposes of sealing, there's an important distinction between possession of cannabis with intent to deliver and possession of controlled substance with intent to deliver

As the newly revised Illinois Criminal Identification Act presently reads, a person convicted of felony Class 3 possession of cannabis with intent to manufacture or deliver must petition the Illinois Prisoner Review Board for a certificate of eligibility to seal before preparing the standard Petition to Seal in the court of conviction, whereas an individual convicted of felony Class 3 possession of controlled substance (i.e., anything other than marijuana) with intent to manufacture or deliver can directly petition the court for his or her conviction to be sealed. Both of these offenses were previously not eligible for sealing relief until Public Act 098-0142 changed that, along with expanding other convictions eligible for sealing, as discussed in a previous blog entry.

I came across this illogical discrepancy while researching for a new client; I must have re-read the statutes, proposed legislation and legislative history four or five times before I realized that indeed, this is how the new law reads. I consulted with various colleagues who are extremely learned in this area of the law and sure enough, the effect of the language within the statute is to make the sealing process more difficult for someone with a possession of cannabis conviction with intent to manufacture or deliver than someone with a possession of heroin, ecstasy or cocaine, for example, conviction with intent to manufacture or deliver.

Before I became too disheartened with our state's laws on this subject, I discovered that the legislature is already in the process of amending the newest version of the Illinois Criminal Identification Act to rectify this nonsensical result. Senator Kwame Raoul introduced Illinois Senate Bill 2941 on February 4, 2014 to amend the current law on sealing to allow for Class 3 convictions for possession with intent to manufacture or deliver cannabis to be addressed directly at the court level through a Petition to Seal, without the need of first obtaining a certificate of eligibility from our state's Prisoner Review Board. I am hopeful this proposed legislation passes easily and quickly and soon becomes law in Illinois. The expungement and sealing laws, in my opinion, are already overly complicated and having a hair-splitting substantive distinction between possession with intent to manufacture or deliver of one type of drug versus another simply makes no sense at all. For now, however, if you do have a conviction for possession of cannabis with intent to manufacture or deliver you will need to petition the Illinois Prisoner Review Board for the above-referenced certificate of eligibility to seal before proceeding with your Petition to Seal that conviction. I strongly urge you to contact an attorney experienced in the field of criminal records laws to discuss the particulars of your situation.

February 14, 2014

Interested in obtaining a permit to carry a concealed firearm? You should definitely consider expunging any eligible records before applying.

On July 9, 2013 the Firearm Concealed Carry Act became state law and was codified at 430 ILCS 66. The law allows an eligible individual to legally carry a concealed firearm with a valid Concealed Carry License. There are multiple requirements a person must meet in order to be eligible and there is a certain level of discretion employed in the Ilinois State Police's decision as to whether to issue such a license to an individual. For example, Section 15 of the new law provides that "[a]ny law enforcement agency may submit an objection to a license applicant based upon a reasonable suspicion that the applicant is a danger to himself or herself or others, or a threat to public safety". This is obviously purposefully vague language that serves to open the door for objections by law enforcement agencies.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been quoted as saying that he will object to the granting of a concealed carry permit to "anyone" with an Illinois arrest record within seven years of that individual's application for such permit. Earlier this month Dart did indeed object to two hundred forty concealed carry applications because these applicants had criminal histories including "gun crimes" and/or "crimes of domestic violence". It is unclear as to whether these individuals all had convictions on their records or if some of the applicants were merely arrested for such crimes and never convicted.

While it is not possible to expunge a conviction and further, not possible to expunge anything on one's criminal record if one has even a single conviction, the expungement laws do allow for expungement of non-convictions such as arrests resulting in aquittals or dismissals. (I've more thoroughly discussed requirements for expungement eligibility in previous blog posts, such as here and here.) I would strongly urge anyone wanting to ultimately obtain a permit to allow him or her to carry a concealed firearm to make sure any expungeable arrests are in fact expunged prior to submitting an application to the Illinois State Police. Even the State Police would need a court order to see a successfully expunged arrest record and therefore would not be able to use such expunged arrests as a reason to deny a person an Illinois Concealed Carry Permit.

February 5, 2014

Overview of Federal Executive Clemency Process - Not So Different from Illinois State Clemency Procedure

In light of the recent attention President Obama has given to low-level drug offenders who were unduly penalized under previous overly harsh drug conviction sentences, I have been researching the federal executive clemency process to see how it differs from that in our state. I am pleased to report that the process of obtaining federal executive clemency is not that different from the process here in Illinois.

The United States Office of the Pardon Attorney assists the President in the exercise of his executive clemency powers, whereas here in Illinois the executive clemency power lies with the Governor, as assisted by our state's Prisoner Review Board. The previously cited United States Department of Justice website contains forms for both pardons and commutations of sentences, rules and standards to be applied to the consideration of these federal executive clemency applications. As is the case in Illinois, there is no mandate that the President must consider a Petition for Executive Clemency within a certain period of time, if at all. Moreover, a granting of federal executive clemency is considered to be an extraordinary remedy governed by the principles of equity, just as it is in our state.

As mentioned above, my research into the federal executive clemency process reveals that it is not so different than that employed by our own state. Basically, a petitioner must answer some fundamental questions concerning him/herself, give a thorough explanation of the legal issues surrounding his/her conviction(s), divulge any/all criminal history, and give one or more reasons he/she is seeking such extraordinary relief through the federal executive clemency process.

Continue reading "Overview of Federal Executive Clemency Process - Not So Different from Illinois State Clemency Procedure" »

October 14, 2013

Illinois Governor Quinn decides 189 additional clemency petitions

Three days ago, on October 11, 2013, the Chicago Tribune reported that Governor Quinn recently granted 65 requests for executive clemency and denied 124 petitions. This brings the total number of petitions for executive clemency Quinn has acted upon since taking office to 2,648. To the best of my knowledge, Governor Quinn is still acting on clemency petitions that date back to 2009. Once again, I applaud Quinn for continuing to decide these all-important petitions that serve to give an individual his or her life back but I urge him to do everything in his power to speed the process up as there are many deserving candidates who are still awaiting a decision.

August 12, 2013

Illinois Sealing Relief is Expanded by P.A. 098-0142 to Include Multiple Class 3 and 4 Felony Convictions!

Great news for individuals burdened by felony criminal records: the Illinois Criminal Identification Act (20 ILCS 2630/5.2 et seq.) has recently been amended by Public Act 098-0142 which adds multiple Class 3 and Class 4 offenses not previously eligible for relief by sealing to now be eligible for sealing through the court system! Prior to this change, only three (3) felonies (all Class 4) were eligible for relief through sealing: possession of a controlled substance (PCS), possession of cannabis (marijuana) and prostitution. Now, in its expanded form, the Illinois Criminal Identification Act allows for the following offenses to be eligible for sealing:

• Class 4 felony convictions for prostitution, possession of cannabis (marijuana), possession of a controlled substance, theft, retail theft, deceptive practices, forgery and possession of burglary tools; and

• Class 3 felony convictions for theft, retail theft, deceptive practices, forgery and possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance.

Moreover, the revised version of the Illinois Criminal Identification Act now provides concrete factors a court may consider in determining whether or not to grant an individual's petition for either expungement or sealing; these factors include the strength of the evidence supporting the defendant/petitioner's underlying conviction(s), the reason the State wishes to retain the individual's conviction records, the petitioner's age, entire criminal history and employment history at the time the petition to expunge or seal is filed, the length of time that has elapsed between the underlying conviction(s) and the filing of the petition to expunge or seal and consideration of specific adverse consequences a petitioner may be subjected to if his/her petition to expunge or seal is denied. While these same factors have been considered since at least as far back as 1998, pursuant People v. Wells (1st Dist. Il. App. Court, 1998), they are now importantly codified within the language of the statute itself.

All in all, the newly-revised Illinois Criminal Identification Act is now giving individuals with either/both Class 3 and Class 4 felonies an opportunity to put their past behind them to continue moving forward as productive members of society. For example, no longer does an individual with a conviction for Class 4 or Class 3 retail theft or theft need to petition our state governor for relief through a petition for executive clemency; instead, this individual may file a petition to seal in the original court where he/she was convicted, thus expediting his/her chance for relief and moreover, freeing up more time for the Governor to consider clemency petitions on more serious crimes. This new version of the Illinois Criminal Identification Act looks to be a win-win for both people looking to seal their criminal records and people needing to seek a pardon through Governor Pat Quinn.

April 2, 2013

Governor Quinn grants 87 more Petitions for Executive Clemency on Good Friday, 2013

I am pleased to announce that this past Friday, March 29, 2013, Illinois State Governor Pat Quinn released decisions on two hundred twenty-two (222) additional Petitions for Executive Clemency, granting eighty-seven (87) pardons in total and denying requests for clemency on another one hundred thirty-five (135) petitions. These recent decisions were for clemency petitions submitted as early as 2005 and as late as 2012 but there are still many petitions contained within that date range that remain undecided. As I've said before, I applaud Gov. Quinn for his attempts to minimize the backlog of petitions he inherited from the previous administration, but there remains a significant build-up of old petitions yet to be acted upon. To date, I have not received decisions on multiple Petitions for Executive Clemency with Authorization to Expunge for clients dating back to 2009. While I understand there are numerous other responsibilities Governor Quinn handles on a daily basis I implore this administration to more quickly act upon outstanding clemency petitions. Sadly, there are many people in our society who are being hindered by their past (sometimes decades old) mistakes and are so deserving of a second chance in the form of a pardon with authorization to expunge. Please help us help them, Governor Quinn!

December 5, 2012

Governor Quinn continues to plod through backlog of 2,500+ Clemency Petitions

In keeping with his usual tradition of deciding Petitions for Executive Clemency just before a major holiday, Governor Quinn granted 81 pardons on November 21, 2012 and denied 88. According to sources at the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, all of these decisions were for petitions filed between 2005 and 2010, thus further diminishing the backlog of these petitions never addressed by former Governor Blagojevich. I certainly commend the present Governor for reviewing and deciding these important petitions, however, I'm curious to know what else can be done to expedite the process more. I had previously heard that the Governor's Office was contemplating outsourcing the first review stage of clemency petitions to pro bono attorneys; while this would undoubtedly speed the process along, I would hope that substantive training would be required of all attorneys being used for this first-stage review. To my knowledge this proposal has not been implemented and I am attempting to discover if it has been temporarily or permanently tabled.

May 9, 2012

2012 Cook County Expungement Summit for Adult and Juvenile Criminal Records

It's time for the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County's annual Expungement Summit! The event will take place on June 2nd, 2012, once again at the Apostolic Church of God located at 6230 South Dorchester Avenue, Chicago, Illinois between 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Please join me there and remember to bring your Chicago RAP sheet (assuming you were arrested in Chicago), which can be ordered from the Chicago Police Department, Access and Review Department, at 3510 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., for $16.00. Further instructions and information can be found on the official event flyer posted on the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court's website.

I look forward to meeting you!

January 23, 2012

Please help! I need someone to explain the Illinois expungement, sealing and/or executive clemency process to my prospective employer...

As I've previously discussed in various blog entries, one of the primary reasons a person retains me to file a Petition to Expunge, Petition to Seal, or Petition for Executive Clemency with Authorization to Expunge is to obtain new or better employment. Obviously the client's criminal background is presenting a significant hurdle to be overcome with regards to landing a job offer, securing an interview, or even keeping a present job. Also, a person's criminal record can present problems to be dealt with in the housing arena. Once retained by a client, I am happy to explain how we intend to pursue relief from that client's criminal record pursuant to the Illinois Criminal Identification Act to a prospective employer or landlord. Sometimes an explanation of the processes by which the client is able to clear his or her criminal record will be sufficient to allow an employer, landlord or other entity to remain patient with that client while he or she works with me to draft and file necessary type of petition to obtain relief from his or her criminal record. The text below represents a redacted version of one such letter written to a current client's prospective employer. If a new or existing boss or landlord has asked you to provide similar explaining Illinois criminal records law please contact me to discuss the details of your situation and how I can draft something to hopefully buy YOU some time while your petition is pending before a court or, alternatively, the Illinois Governor.

"January 23, 2012

Mr. ------------------
-----------------------
-----------------------
-----------------------
-----------------------

VIA FACSIMILE ----------

RE: -----------------, CANDIDATE FOR EMPLOYMENT

Dear Mr. ----------:

I have been retained by Mr. ------- to prepare a Petition for Executive Clemency with Authorization to Expunge one (1) conviction from a ----- case in ----- County, Illinois. My client has asked me to prepare a brief letter explaining the process by which he can "clear" his criminal record, which, as I understand, consists solely of this single indiscretion. Accordingly, please take the following paragraphs as explanation of what you and he can expect to happen next pursuant to Illinois law on the subject matter at issue.

Basically, the Illinois Criminal Identification Act (hereinafter "the Act"), specifically 20 ILCS 2630/5.2 et seq., sets forth the requirements an individual must meet in order to pursue either expungement or sealing of his or her criminal record in Illinois. In a nutshell, if a person has even a single conviction, as defined by the Act, on his or her record (either in Illinois or elsewhere) he or she is not eligible to have any portion of his or her record expunged. The Act defines "expungement" to mean either the physical destruction of the individual's records or else the return of said records to the individual, so that such records are no longer available for any other person or entity to see. See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(a)(1)(E). Moreover, the Act defines the term "conviction" to include not only a sentence of jail or prison time, which is not applicable in Mr. ---------'s situation, but also a sentence of probation or conditional discharge, or even payment of a fine. See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(a)(1)(C). Because Mr. ----------- was given a sentence of probation (which he ultimately satisfied), he is deemed to have a "conviction" on his record, thus rendering him ineligible for outright expungement. Mr. ---------- is also not eligible to have this single conviction "sealed" by the Court, as pursuant to the Act, only three felony offenses are eligible for the remedy of sealing. See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(a)(1)(K) for the definition of the term "seal") and 20 ILCS 2630(c)(2)(F).

A person in Mr. ---------'s situation is not left without remedy under the Act, however. Pursuant to 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(e), an individual who has been granted a pardon which specifically authorizes expungement by the Illinois Governor to seek an expungement from the original sentencing court. Basically, a person with an otherwise non-expungeable conviction on his or her criminal record may file a Petition for Executive Clemency with Authorization to Expunge with our state's Governor and, essentially, receive "permission" to file an expungement with the court that originally entered the conviction at issue. Of course executive clemency, or a pardon, is considered to be an "extraordinary" remedy and therefore it is not automatically granted. Instead, there are many factors which are considered by the Governor when deciding these types of petitions; some of the factors are the length and totality of the individual's criminal record, the length of time that has passed since the last conviction, the circumstances surrounding the conviction(s) at issue, what the individual has been doing in the time that has passed since the conviction(s) at issue and ultimately, the reason(s) why the individual is seeking this extraordinary relief. My professional opinion is that Mr. ----------- has a very good chance at obtaining a pardon allowing him to pursue expungement in the Circuit Court of ------ County based upon the factors set forth above. Though it may seem duplicative, these same factors just discussed are also considered by the Presiding Judge of the Court considering the Petition to Expunge and I therefore believe Mr. -------- also has a very good chance at ultimately getting an expungement petition granted. Once a Petition to Expunge has been granted by the Presiding Judge the arresting agency, the Illinois State Police and the Circuit Court records are to be expunged within sixty days of service of the Order to Expunge. See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(d)(9)(A) et seq. Ultimately, the expungement of an individual's criminal record(s) means that the individual can legally answer, on an employment application or otherwise, that he or she has not been convicted of the criminal offense(s) at issue. A background check of the individual's record should also not reflect any conviction of the expunged offense(s). In practical terms, it wipes the slate clean to allow the individual to move forward with his or her life and obtain better employment, housing, etc.

I hope this letter sufficiently explains the process of executive clemency (i.e., a pardon) and expungement within the State of Illinois. Should you have any follow up questions on the subject I would be happy to discuss them with you and can be reached at 847-922-8683.

Very truly yours,

Jorie K. Johnson
Attorney at Law"

December 11, 2011

Illinois Governor Quinn Reduces Backlog of Pending Clemency Petitions by 206.

On or about December 6, 2011 Illinois Governor Quinn released decisions on a total of two hundred six pending applications for pardons, including petitions for executive clemency, according to local news source CBS Chicago. Specifics about the type of petitions the Governor granted were scarce; for example, I was not able to find details about how many petitions for executive clemency were granted or denied, or even more specifically, how many of those were petitions for executive clemency with authorization to expunge. The articles I found did mention, however, that at least one previously convicted and currently incarcerated man's sentence was commuted without granting him a full pardon.

This news is encouraging for the thousands of individuals still awaiting decisions on their own petitions for executive clemency with or without authorization to expunge. Of course, we'd all like to see more progress being made on the backlog of petitions, but this is most certainly better than former Illinois Governor Blagojevich did while he was in office. Keep plugging away, Governor Quinn and thanks for your efforts in this regard!

September 13, 2011

Progress on Clemency Petitions: Illinois Governor Quinn Decides 173 More Petitions for Executive Clemency just before Labor Day 2011.

It seems to be a common trend that clemency petitions in Illinois are decided just prior to major holidays in our state/country. In keeping with that tendency, Governor Quinn addressed an additional one hundred seventy three petitions for executive clemency on September 2, 2011 by granting seventy four and denying ninety nine. The petitions Governor Quinn decided ranged in dates from 2004 through 2007.

This gubernatorial action brings the total number of petitions he's acted upon since taking office on January 29, 2009 (after former Governor Blagojevich's impeachment and removal from office) to one thousand five hundred twenty nine. In total, Governor Quinn has granted five hundred ninety one petitions by granting five hundred eighty new pardons and by authorizing expungement on eleven previously granted petitions and he has denied a total of nine hundred thirty eight petitions for clemency.

This information was gathered from the State of Illinois News webpage which combines articles from the Illinois Government News Network as well as all Illinois press releases.

May 24, 2011

Cook County 2011 Expungement Summit for Adult and Juvenile Criminal Records

Please join me at this year's Expungement Summit sponsored by The Honorable Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County. I, along with many others, will be volunteering my time to assist those in need of free legal advice in order to successfully clean off past criminal records in Cook County, Illinois.

The 2011 Expungement Summit will take place at the Apostolic Church of God located at 6320 South Dorchester Avenue, Chicago, Illinois; registration begins at 8:30 a.m. on June 4, 2011 and I highly recommend getting there as early as possible.

Click here for additional information, including a link to the official event flyer, about this event.

Hope to see you there!

April 1, 2011

Should I trust a "criminal records removal" service to assist me with my expungement, sealing or clemency? Short answer: NO!

Until today, I had no idea that there are a handful of websites in existence that supposedly devote their resources to assisting individuals "clear off" their criminal records at a "more reasonable" or "reduced" rate. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised as ultimately you can find pretty much any type of service being offered in this capitalistic society we live in. However, having just spoken to a new potential client who retained one of these non-lawyer "services" to assist him in "clearing off" his criminal record (he was given no specific advice as to what type of relief the service would be pursuing on his behalf, nor is he able to directly contact the company to ask), I was appalled to find out that essentially, the (unnamed) service at issue simply accepted his several hundred dollars in exchange for nothing, as this man simply doesn't qualify for expungement or sealing relief in Illinois. (See previous blog entries for details on what is or is not eligible for expungement or sealing in Illinois.)

After speaking with this potential new client (ultimately, he needs to pursue a petition for executive clemency with authorization to expunge for his felony class 3 theft conviction) to discuss his options, I decided to look into the so-called "expungement companies" to see what they're all about. Let me assure you I was less than impressed with the results. During my internet search, I first came across a website that purported to rank these various companies (see www.expungesite.com/services/services.htm). This website specifically referenced its "own rating system" without telling us what that system actually is and then, in a separate blog entry proceeded to slam the well-established Better Business Bureau (which, as an aside they didn't even manage to spell correctly when referring to it as the "'Beter' Business Bureau") as having a totally biased rating system (see http://news.expungesite.com/2010/07/beter-business-bureau.html). This obviously led me to correctly surmise that the BBB had less-than-positive reviews to report about these types of companies. (See, for example, BBB reviews of Records Removal Services; American Pardon Services a/k/a Canadian Pardon Services; Clear My Record.com a/k/a Expungement Assistant Service, Removeit.org, New Beginnings, etc.)

The bottom line is that none of these services is able to give proper legal advice, as customers simply aren't dealing with licensed attorneys. In Illinois, only a licensed attorney is able to give another person legal advice. (See Rule 5.5 of the 2010 Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct). There is a reason that after receiving my college degree I spent three difficult years in law school, had to take a two-day bar exam to become licensed as an attorney in Illinois, and am required to take no less than thirty (30) hours of Continuing Legal Education courses every two years. While of course it would be appealing, especially to an individual likely having difficult obtaining or keeping a job because of his/her criminal record, to pay less for relief from one's criminal record, ultimately there seems to be some truth in the saying "you get what you pay for". Personally, as an ethical attorney who is truly dedicated to the best interests of my clients, I keep my professional fees as low as possible and always offer flexible payment plans for my services. Ultimately, however, it is my professional opinion that no one should ever allow a "forms preparation service" or other untrained professional attempt to evade the Illinois state law prohibiting anyone not licensed by our state bar from giving legal advice to "handle" this sensitive and increasingly more important issue in our society - seeking relief from one's criminal record.

January 14, 2011

How do I check the status of my Petition for Executive Clemency? Contact the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

I often receive phone calls from pro se petitioners (individuals who have previously filed their own Petitions for Executive Clemency), as well as other attorneys, inquiring about how to check the status of their own/their client's petition. Even though petitions are addressed directly to our state governor, they are initially sent to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in Springfield, Illinois. The Board is comprised of individuals who are present at the public hearings available to all petitioners, and the Board makes confidential recommendations to the Governor on whether a petition should be granted or denied. Moreover, the Prisoner Review Board is the entity who keeps track of the status of an individual's petition.

Inquiries about the status of a Petition for Executive Clemency should be directed to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, 319 East Madison Street, Suite A, Springfield, Illinois 62701. Their contact telephone number is (217) 782-7273 and their website is located at http://www2.illinois.gov/prb/Pages/default.aspx. Please keep in mind that the Board gets frequent phone calls to inquire about status of these petitions and they have a limited staff; please be patient with the Board while waiting for a response to your inquiry.

December 31, 2010

"Speed up clemency, please" - my letter to the editor from the December 30, 2010 Chicago Sun-Times

"I am a solo practitioner attorney who devotes a significant portion of my practice to criminal records law.

I represent many individuals in need of executive clemency in order to "clean off" their criminal records. I sincerely appreciated the Dec. 28 editorial ["Decide quicker on clemency cases"] about the importance of Gov. Quinn's continued focus on clearing the backlog of clemency petitions from his desk, many of which were left by his predecessor.

New petitions are being submitted in record numbers, thus increasing the number of undecided petitions drastically. I definitely appreciate that Gov. Quinn, since taking office, has been pushing through the backlog of these petitions in a reasonably efficient manner.

However, the fact remains that the individuals seeking relief through executive clemency are, in many cases, unable to work, secure housing, loans, etc., without this type of relief.

Essentially, their lives are at a standstill and they are completely at Gov. Quinn's mercy. Many of the individuals whom I come to represent in their search for executive clemency are still being penalized, essentially, for transgressions that occurred decades ago. They've paid their debts to society and simply want to become productive members of society.

I'd like to applaud Gov. Quinn for his efforts with regard to deciding nearly 900 executive clemency petitions since taking office in 2009, but also like to take the opportunity to reaffirm the sentiment in the editorial: Gov. Quinn needs to redouble his efforts on deciding the approximately 2,800 remaining petitions just as quickly as possible.

The lives of my clients, in so many cases, depend upon his expedient actions.

Jorie K. Johnson,

Aurora[, IL]"

Full text of my letter to the editor can be found at http://www.suntimes.com/opinions/letters/3053350-474/clemency-petitions-gov-quinn-executive.html