"He had believed in a new life. He soon saw what sort of liberty that is which has a yellow passport."
- Victor Hugo
For many people a criminal record does more harm than any other result of an encounter with the law. A record can seriously damage prospects for education, employment, military service, state licensing and credit.
Illinois fortunately allows some criminal records to be completely expunged. The arrest records of the arresting police department and of the Illinois Department of State Police are destroyed, the court records are impounded and the defendant's name is removed from the court's index. The FBI will normally honor a state court expungement order and will remove expunged records from its files. A background check will reveal no official record that the defendant was ever arrested or prosecuted. Only law enforcement agencies will be able to learn that information.
Not all records can be expunged. With very few exceptions, expungement is only available to defendants who have never been convicted of a crime . . . ever and anywhere in the country. That means that your records can only be expunged if you were not convicted of the crime for which you were arrested or charged. That is one reason why it is important, where possible, to resolve a criminal case without a conviction. Such dispositions as release without charging, dismissal, acquittal, deferred prosecution, supervision, TASC drug probation, and the newly enacted "second-chance" probation are not convictions. Defendants who have received any of those dispositions, or who have had convictions reversed on appeal, may be eligible to have their records expunged.
On the other hand, defendants who have received probation, conditional discharge, jail time or prison time do have convictions. Their records can never be expunged. There are only two exceptions. A convicted defendant who has received a pardon from the Governor including a Governor's order for expungement can have records ordered expunged by the court. And an honorably discharged veteran may be able to obtain a certificate of eligibility to expunge certain less serious conviction records.
Some records that cannot be expunged can be sealed. Sealed records are removed from public view and can only be revealed by court order or under limited circumstances defined by law. Sealing affords a lower level of protection that expungement, but it is much better than nothing and it is often available where expungement is not.
There is, unfortunately, no mechanism to expunge or seal federal criminal records.