Understanding expungements in Illinois and why they are helpful

Everyone makes mistakes in life and many are made during young adulthood when people are still maturing. But those who make certain mistakes shouldn’t be forced to pay for them forever.

A case in point involves arrests and criminal offenses. Individuals arrested or convicted of crimes often continue to face repercussions long after the event. Fortunately, many states, including Illinois, recognize this and have implemented laws that allow for individuals to seek what’s referred to as expungements.

Understanding expungements

An expungement is essentially a legal process that allows people to either “expunge” or “seal” their criminal or arrest records from public availability.

In the State of Illinois, to “expunge” means to “physically destroy the records or return them to the petitioner and to obliterate the petitioner’s name from any official index or public record, or both.”

The term “seal,” in Illinois, means to “physically and electronically maintain the records…but to make the records unavailable without a court order.”

How expungements are helpful

Expunging or sealing an arrest or conviction is vital to many people who have had encounters with the law because they often hinder their ability to obtain a job or lease an apartment or home years after the event occurs.

For instance, many employers often conduct criminal background checks on applicants applying for a job. However, many will deny job opportunities to individuals otherwise qualified for the position because they have found a particular past conviction or arrest on their record.

Additionally, many landlords will request individuals who wish to lease a property fill out a housing rental application. The application often includes questions relating to past criminal history. Similar to employers, landlords will deny opportunities to those with certain past encounters with the law.

However, if a successful expungement is obtained, a conviction or arrest will no longer be available to the public; neither employers nor landlords will be able to see the information.


Although the State of Illinois allows individuals to obtain expungements, the law outlines various exceptions. Certain offenses are not eligible for either expunging or sealing. These include but are not limited to:

  • Sexual offenses involving minors
  • Minor traffic citations
  • Certain felony offenses

Determining expungement qualification

To determine whether an arrest or crime is eligible, individuals are advised to consult with a criminal defense attorney in their area. A lawyer can assess the situation and determine eligibility.

If an arrest or conviction is deemed eligible for expunging or sealing in the State of Illinois, a petition can be filed “with the clerk of the court where the arrests occurred or the charges were brought, or both” and generally includes the petitioner’s name, date of birth, and the arrest of conviction requested to be sealed or expunged, among others.

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