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.)

What does seem to be clear is that the primary purpose of the Certificate of Relief from Disabilities is to assist an individual with one or two non-violent felony convictions in obtaining one of twenty-seven occupational/professional state licenses listed in the statute (e.g., athletic trainer, nail technician, shorthand reporter, real estate agent, roofer, funeral director, etc.); by creating a “presumption of rehabilitation” that must be considered by the licensing board. It is not, however, a guarantee that an “offender” (the term used by the statute) will be able to obtain such licensure, although the statute is clear that in order to deny the licensure, there must be either a direct relationship between at least one of the criminal offenses and the specific license being sought or alternatively, an unreasonable risk to property, safety or welfare of others. (See 730 ILCS 5/5-5-5(h).) In order to obtain a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities from either the circuit court that imposed the original sentence upon the applicant or the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, this relief must be determined to be consistent with both the rehabilitation of the individual and the interest of the public. (See 730 ILCS 5/5-5.5-15 and 730 ILCS 5/5-5.5-20.)

The alternative form of certificate, the Certificate of Good Conduct can essentially be defined as a finding by the appropriate Circuit Court that the recipient of the certificate has demonstrated that “he or she has been a law-abiding citizen and is fully rehabilitated” (see 730 ILCS 5/5-5.5-25, as amended by Public Act 096-0852), but yet it appears to have no independent legal effect. It does not create any “presumption of rehabilitation”, as the Certificate of Relief from Disabilities does. Although the statute does set forth the process an individual must undertake in order to obtain a Certificate of Good Conduct (e.g., minimum periods of good conduct for both misdemeanors and felonies, etc.), the statute does not provide much additional information about its purpose and/or uses.

As always, I recommend consulting with an attorney familiar with Illinois criminal records laws to determine the best course of action for your particular situation. Navigating the complexities of these laws can be an overwhelming task and you should not have to do so alone!

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