Eligibility versus favorable judgment on a petition to expunge or seal: bottom line, no criminal records attorney can guarantee you results!

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.


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