Articles Posted in Sealing

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. ——————

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.

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.

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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).

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.

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.
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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).)
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Many people seeking to clear their criminal records through the Illinois expungement and/or sealing laws are quite surprised to learn that certain traffic law violations can affect the outcome of their situation dramatically. Not only do certain violations of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/ et seq.) result in a person becoming technically non-eligible for expungement and/or sealing relief, but even where the individual is still eligible for such relief, the waiting period that must expire prior to that individual seeking such a remedy is in many cases drastically increased. Essentially, this idea is an extension of the discussion from my previous blog entry titled “Expungement: an ‘all or nothing’ remedy”, but here, I would like to cite some specific examples dealing with traffic law violations.

As I previously posted in my blog entry titled “Illinois expungement and sealing laws: not as straightforward as many people think”, only a person who has never been convicted of a criminal offense in his or her adult life is eligible to petition the court for expungement relief. (See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(b) et seq.) As discussed, the Illinois expungement and sealing statute is very specific, however, in defining the term “conviction” – generally speaking, a criminal case ending by way of conditional discharge, general probation, a prison sentence or a fine for a municipal ordinance violation are among the categories embraced by this term. A court-ordered supervision does not normally prevent an individual from seeking relief under the expungement laws of Illinois. However, there is one notable exception: a supervision received for driving under the influence (“DUI”) in violation of 625 ILCS 5/11-501 et seq. does make an otherwise expungeable criminal record non-expungeable.
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There are so many common misconceptions about what can and cannot be expunged from an adult’s criminal record in the state of Illinois. Moreover, it’s not just the general public who is confused about the state of our laws in this area; I’ve encountered numerous attorneys, and even a few judges, who are providing erroneous guidance to individuals seeking to “clean up” their criminal records. Not only are the laws in this area quite complex, but the actual filing procedures through which one petitions the court for relief can differ significantly between various Illinois counties, even within the different municipalities that comprise Illinois’ largest county (as measured by population): Cook. It is my goal in setting up the Illinois Expungement Lawyer Blog to provide fact-based, easy-to-understand, and hopefully even interesting information about the current state of Illinois expungement, sealing, and clemency laws.

Expungement and sealing of adult criminal records in Illinois is a statutory remedy governed by 20 ILCS 2630/5 et seq. Although there are some additional nuances, the definitional difference between the two terms is that to “‘expunge’ means to physically destroy the records [in question] or return them to the petitioner [i.e., the person who is in the process of expunging his/her criminal record]” (20 ILCS 2630/5.2(a)(1)(E)) while to “‘seal’ means to…maintain the records…but to make [them] unavailable without a court order…” (20 ILCS 2630/5.2(a)(1)(K)). The primary ramification of the different meanings is that expunged records can only be accessed by law enforcement if a person is arrested and charged with the same or a similar offense, while sealed records can be accessed by any agency or entity that is allowed access under the statute.

Since expungement is the preferable remedy, then, it’s not surprising that it is reserved for individuals who have never been convicted as an adult. This means, for purposes of the Illinois expungement remedy, that the individual has not been convicted in any state. Furthermore, the statute continues on to define what is meant by a conviction; “conviction” is defined as a plea of guilt by a defendant, or a finding of guilt by either a judge or jury, which results in a sentence of conditional discharge, general probation, time considered served, incarceration, and even fines (for municipal ordinances). See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(a)(1)(C). A dismissal or acquittal, on the other hand is not considered a conviction, nor is the imposition of court supervision or “qualified”, “first offender” probation. See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(a)(1)(J).