Expungements in Illinois: Frequently Asked Questions

By William Mazur

If you have a criminal record in Illinois and are considering having one or more of your past offenses expunged, you likely have some questions about the process. This guide covers some of the more frequently asked questions.

1) What's the Difference Between Expunging and Sealing a Criminal Record?

The main difference between expunging and sealing a criminal record is WHO can access the record after the process is completed. Expunged records are only available to law enforcement for limited offenses (5-year waiting period offenses). Other than that, expunged records are physically destroyed. Sealed records, on the other hand, are always viewable by law enforcement. Beyond law enforcement, it depends whether the conviction record is for a felony or a misdemeanor. Sealed misdemeanor conviction records are only viewable by law enforcement - no private citizens or entities can see sealed misdemeanor conviction records. Sealed felony conviction records are available only to law enforcement and employers authorized by law (i.e. - those that are regulated by statutes and regularly conduct fingerprint background checks).

2) What is Considered a Conviction for Expungement Purposes?

In Illinois, having even one conviction on your criminal record makes the entire record ineligible for expungement, so it's important to understand what qualifies as a "conviction". The following case dispositions are considered convictions in Illinois: 1) Probation; 2) Conditional Discharge; 3) Time Considered Served; 4) Any prison or jail time; and 5) Fines or Municipal Ordinance Violations.

3) What Types of Case Dispositions Can be Expunged if There are No Convictions on the Record?

The following dispositions are Not considered evictions are therefore can be expunged: 1) FNG (finding of not guilty); 2) Stricken Off with Leave to Reinstate (SOL); 3) Non-Suit; 4) Nolle Prosequi; 5) Finding of No Probable Cause (FNPC); 6) Supervision - but ONLY if the supervisions requirements were satisfactorily completed (Note: DUIs, reckless driving, and sex offense against a minor are not eligible); and 7) 710-1410 or TASC Probation - but ONLY if the sentence is satisfactorily be completed (otherwise it's considered a conviction).

4) Do I Have to Wait Before I Can File for an Expungement?

Generally, Yes - but it depends on the disposition of your case(s). Cases/dispositions that have No waiting period (you can file immediately): Finding of No Probable Cause, Nolle Prosequi, and Finding of Not Guilty. The dispositions that require a waiting period of 120-160 days before filing are Stricken Off with Leave to Reinstate and Non-Suit. For Supervision, you first must wait until the conditions of your supervision are completed - then, you can file for expungement 2 years after the sentence was vacated. Lastly, 710-1410 or TASC Probation cases must also wait until all conditions are satisfactorily completed and the sentence is vacated, and then you can file for expungement 5 years after it was vacated along with proof of a clean drug test.

5) Do I Need a Lawyer to Get My Record Expunged?

Not necessarily, but an attorney experienced with filing for expungements can help you navigate the process smoothly and obtain the expungment order as quickly as possible. An expungement attorney will also be able to tell you whether or not you qualify for an expungement before you even file, possibly saving you time and money. Many attorneys will also handle your expungement for a reasonable flat rate.

6) How Much Does it Cost to File for Expungement?

The short answer is it depends. Some people will qualify for a fee waiver but that is up to the judge. Ask your local court clerk for a form called the "Application to Sue as an Indigent Person" or "In Forma Pauperis" and file it with your petition to expunge. If you do not qualify for a fee waiver, you will have to pay the fee for filing the petition plus $60 for the Illinois State Police. The filing fee varies by jurisdiction, but in Cook County it is $120 per petition. There also can be some associated fees the court charges for things like record searching, computer printouts, certified copies, etc, but these are generally much smaller than the filing fee. Lastly, if you choose to hire an attorney to handle your expungement, the cost for that varies as well, but many attorneys will handle expungements for a flat rate in the $200 range.

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