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!
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.
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!
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
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"
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!
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.
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.
Hope to see you there!
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.
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.
"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,
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
Eligibility versus favorable judgment on a petition to expunge or seal: bottom line, no criminal records attorney can guarantee you results!
PART 1 OF 2
I am usually asked at least once a day if, after learning of a potential client's criminal history I can guarantee his or her petition for expungement (or sealing, as the case may be) will be granted. While I realize that many of my clients are coming to me because they are unable to find employment with certain felonies, or even misdemeanors, on their criminal records, and that even the smallest legal fees become overly burdensome, I cannot, legally or morally, guarantee a positive result. Trust me, no one wants to win on a petition for expungement or sealing more than I do! However, it would be wrong of me to make a promise I cannot fulfill, and I refuse to do so. Instead, when faced with this type of situation, I try to explain to my client, present or future, that while I can advise him or her if he is ELIGIBLE for the type of relief being sought, and further, I can give my professional opinion as to the LIKELIHOOD of a petition for relief from one's criminal records, ultimately, this is a discretionary remedy and the presiding judge of the district at issue has the final say.
What I mean when I use the term "eligibility" is whether or not the law allows for a particular criminal record to be expunged or sealed. It is often times, therefore, referred to as "statutory eligibility". The Illinois Criminal Identification Act is very specific in what and what does not qualify for certain relief. In several of my previous blog posts, I've discussed the fact that under 20 ILCS 2630/5.2 et seq., any person with a conviction in any jurisdiction is not eligible for relief through a petition to expunge. This is not my decision, it isn't the State's Attorney's decision, and it's not even the judge's decision; instead, our state lawmakers have come to agreement that a person who has been convicted of any criminal offense in any state in our nation is not eligible to have his or her criminal record expunged. Once the judge makes the determination that the petitioner has actually been convicted of a criminal offense, that petition to expunge his or her criminal records will be automatically denied. The same logic applies to the limitations around when someone may file a petition to seal his or her criminal record (see previous blog entries including this one).
Determining whether an individual is statutorily eligible for relief through a petition to expunge or seal is, thus, just the beginning of my job as a criminal records attorney. The more difficult part of my job is analyzing the factors set forth through case law to give a potential client a well-reasoned and educated prediction as to whether or not he or she will prevail on a petition for relief.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Can't I expunge a thirty year old felony theft conviction from my criminal record? It's the only thing on my background!
Many of my clients are finding themselves in the position of needing to petition for executive clemency in order to clear even one felony theft charge from their criminal record. As I've previously mentioned, someone with even one conviction in his/her past is not eligible for relief through the expungement process. Moreover, when the charge has risen to the level of felony, chances are even the arrest is not sealable. What this means is that even if a person was charged, and latter acquitted, or alternatively, the charges were dismissed, that original felony arrest will remain a permanent part of the person's criminal background. (The four exceptions to this general rule are discussed here.) This leaves a person with even one arrest for felony theft with no option but to seek clemency from the Illinois governor.
Under Illinois law, a person has committed "theft" when he/she "obtains" property from its rightful owner either through "unauthorized control", deception or threat and moreover, has intended to permanently keep the property at issue away from its rightful owner. 720 ILCS 5/16-1 et seq. Depending upon the value of the property as issue and where (or who) it was taken from will determine if the crime is to be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. There is only one possibility where theft in Illinois will be considered a misdemeanor (Class A), and that is where the property has not been taken from another person, the property's value is less than $300.00, the property was not removed from a school, church or governmental property, and the person taking the property has not previously been convicted of theft or any related offense. (See 720 ILCS 5/16-1(b) et seq.)
The likelihood of all of the criteria set forth above being met, thus allowing a theft charge to be classified as a misdemeanor is relatively small. Even a theft of $300.01 will be considered a felony. For purposes of clearing a person's criminal record, the distinction between misdemeanor and felony convictions is extremely important, as again, the general rule of thumb is that the latter are neither expungeable nor sealable.
For determining eligibility for expungement or sealing, it does not matter if the felony theft conviction was from 30 years ago, nor does it matter if the individual was convicted of a Class 4 felony (least serious) instead of a Class X felony (most serious). Of course, all of these factors would be considered by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in deciding whether to recommend a petitioner's request for clemency - and ultimately by Governor Quinn himself. Obviously, the longer the period of time that has passed since a person's conviction(s) and the lesser the degree of seriousness will all be regarded positively when a clemency petition is analyzed. Ultimately, however, the point to be made is that clemency is the only form of relief potentially available to a person with a felony theft conviction on his or her criminal record. Though I am not advocating theft, to my way of thinking, this is a very harsh result for comparatively minor conviction in many cases.
An arrest, then a subsequent release without charging is still a part of your criminal record in Illinois, unless you successfully petition to have it expunged or sealed.
It seems a bit counterintuitive that in Illinois, a person who is merely arrested, but not formally charged with a crime (i.e., this person is "released without charging", or "RWOC") must proactively seek to have his/her arrest expunged or sealed. After all, with regard to felonies, if the arresting officer(s) had presented the State's Attorney's Felony Review Unit with ample evidence that the suspect did in fact commit the crime in question, that suspect would have been formally charged with the crime, thus beginning the criminal charging "process". Instead, the Assistant State's Attorney involved in the felony review process must have either determined that the evidence against the suspect was insufficient to warrant felony charges, or alternatively, that no felony offense was at issue. Moreover, in a situation where the State's Attorney's Felony Review Unit has rejected felony charges against a suspect, the police still have the authority to charge that suspect with a misdemeanor is they so choose. Again, if there is not sufficient evidence to charge that suspect with even a misdemeanor offense, he/she is released from police custody most likely thinking that is the end of the ordeal.
It therefore surprises many of my clients that this mere arrest and subsequent release without charging remains on his or her criminal record. I've seen numerous instances where an individual has honestly forgotten all about the arrest and RWOC, as many years may have passed without that person having any interaction with the law. In terms of obtaining employment, there are some protections afforded by our state laws with regard to what an employer or employment agency may consider regarding to a person who has been arrested but not charged, but ultimately, it is in that person's best interest to petition the court for either expungement or sealing of the arrest record at issue. The basic rules surrounding expungement and sealing eligibility that I've discussed in previous blog entries still apply in this type of situation. (See also 20 ILCS 2630 et seq.) So, practically speaking, a person with just one or more arrests that result in dispositions of "release without charging" will be eligible for expungement relief, but a person who has an arrest and RWOC, plus any conviction for an unrelated crime will only be eligible for sealing.
In Illinois, a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct might be the best option for someone with a criminal record who is searching for employment.
In the arena often dubbed "the collateral consequences of conviction", the gubernatorial pardon, as discussed in my previous blog entry, can be considered the "patriarch" of relief procedures, but as a practical matter, it is an extraordinary form of relief that can take many years to be granted. However, more readily obtained forms of relief such as the sealing or expungement of one's criminal record are only available to individuals meeting very specific criteria, as also previously discussed. In January 2004, the Illinois Unified Code of Corrections was enlarged via Article 5.5 (730 ILCS 5/5-5.5 et seq.) to create a potential solution for someone with a criminal record who, although technically eligible for a pardon, in all likelihood would not be considered sufficiently "rehabilitated" - a subjective criteria closely tied to the length of time since an individual's last criminal offense - to realistically be considered for such comprehensive relief. This additional statutory relief came in two forms, generally: (1) a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities and (2) a Certificate of Good Conduct.
In Illinois, both the Certificate of Relief from Disabilities and the Certificate of Good Conduct are reserved for individuals with no more than two non-violent felony convictions. Generally speaking, these certificates serve to relieve an employer of civil or criminal liability for an act or omission by the person to whom the certificate was issued. There is not an abundance of information regarding certificates as a form of relief, especially information focused on the Certificate of Good Conduct. Moreover, with regards to this latter type of certificate, the statute remains somewhat vague, leaving what seems to be much room for speculation about its purpose and use. (See 730 ILCS 5/5-5.5-25 et seq.)
Can Illinois employers really consider THAT? You might be surprised what parts of your criminal background are considered "fair game" for a potential employer to utilize in deciding whether or not to hire you.
Generally speaking, an Illinois employer or prospective employer may use information from a person's criminal history record to make a decision about whether or not to hire (or retain, if the individual has already been provisionally hired) that person. Of course, there are several key exceptions to this generality, the most notable being that an employer cannot use arrest or other criminal history record information that has previously been ordered expunged, sealed or impounded under Section 5.2 of the Illinois Criminal Identification Act (20 ILCS 2630/5.2) as a basis to refuse to hire or discharge an individual.
Moreover, no employer in Illinois, public or private, is allowed to use "discriminating factors" to base a decision of employment on. The Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 ILCS 5 et seq., sets forth in Section 102(A) a list of factors that constitute "unlawful discrimination"; these factors include race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, order of protection status, marital status, physical or mental disability, military status, and sexual orientation. (See 775 ILCS 5/102(A).)
Additionally, an employer cannot deny a person who has been arrested, but the charge was subsequently dismissed, a job based upon the dismissed charge. However, as is so often the case with the law, there's a bit of a catch: the statute does not prohibit an employer/potential employer from using means besides a person's arrest report itself from determining whether that person actually engaged in the conduct he/she was arrested for, and then denying the person a job based upon that independent information. (See 775 ILCS 5/103(A) and 775 ILCS 5/103(B).)