By Paralegal Emma Tasch (formerly Sliwinski)
Possessing a criminal record can create a significant amount of worry and distress, even if the record originates from the juvenile years of a person's life. Adults who hold a juvenile criminal record most often fear that their past delinquent activity may bar them from obtaining their dream job. Similarly, parents of children who have had past delinquent occurrences often worry that their children's poor decisions will prevent them from attending college or another institution of higher education. Furthermore, children who possess juvenile records oftentimes fear that their past delinquency will determine how society views them for the rest of their lives: once a bad kid, always a bad kid. Thankfully, in the case of juvenile criminal records in the State of Illinois, an option known as “automatic expungements” can help assuage these fears. Through automatic expungements, both adults and minors who hold juvenile criminal records in Illinois are provided with a chance to learn from their mistakes and to demonstrate that they have matured into law-abiding, respectful, and caring members of society. However, despite the simple explanation provided by Illinois law, automatic expungements still present challenges that can create immense confusion and frustration.
Expungements: Definition and Procedure
An “expungement” is defined as “The removal of a conviction…from a person's criminal record.” Expungement, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). Unlike sealing, or “The act or practice of officially preventing access to particular records in the absence of a court order,” an expungement involves the complete destruction of an individual's criminal record. Sealing, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). In other words, a person's criminal record will not appear in the databases of the local police departments, the Illinois State Police, or any of the courts that held jurisdiction over a person's criminal charges once an individual's request to expunge his or her criminal records is granted.
Although the procedure for requesting an expungement in Illinois varies across the State's counties, common steps in the process include the following:
- The petitioner must obtain a copy of his or her Record of Arrests and Prosecutions (or RAP Sheet) from the Illinois State Police or any of the local police departments that were involved with any of the petitioner's past arrests.
- The petitioner, with the assistance of an attorney if the petitioner desires, must complete and sign 1) the Notice of Filing for Expungement, 2) the Request to Expunge and Impound Criminal Records, 3) the Order to Expunge and Impound Criminal Records, and 4) the Order Denying Request to Expunge and Impound Criminal Records.
- The petitioner must file with the court(s) these four documents and if a court requires it, a copy of his or her Records of Arrests and Prosecutions.
- The petitioner must appear in court for a hearing during which the judge will determine whether to grant or deny the petitioner's request for expungement.
Unlike with adult criminal records, expunging juvenile records does not have to involve filing a petition and appearing in court for a hearing. With a few exceptional crimes that are considered “disqualified offenses” under Illinois law, automatic expungements allow an individual to avoid filing a petition to expunge his or her juvenile criminal record and to save a trip to court for a hearing.
Automatic Expungements Explained: The Juvenile Court Act of 1987
The Juvenile Court Act of 1987 serves as the current piece of legislation in Illinois that authorizes the automatic expungements of juvenile court records. Over the years, this law has undergone numerous amendments, with the most recent amendment going into effect on January 1, 2023. According to paragraph (0.1)(a) of the Juvenile Court Act, the Illinois State Police and all law enforcement agencies in Illinois are to automatically expunge “all juvenile law enforcement records relating to events occurring before an individual's eighteenth birthday” if all the following conditions are met:
“(1) one year or more has elapsed since the date of the arrest or law enforcement interaction documented in the records;
(2) no petition for delinquency or criminal charges were filed with the clerk of the circuit court relating to the arrest or law enforcement interaction documented in the records; and
(3) 6 months have elapsed since the date of the arrest without an additional subsequent arrest or filing of a petition for delinquency or criminal charges whether related or not to the arrest or law enforcement interaction documented in the records.”
705 ILCS 405/5-915 (West 2023).
If the above listed conditions cannot be met and if the charges on an individual's record are not “disqualified offenses” (i.e. first degree murder, reckless homicide, kidnapping, criminal sexual assault, stalking, cyberstalking, ritualized child abuse, arson, resisting a peace officer, harassment, possession of a deadly substance), then Paragraph (0.3)(a) of the Juvenile Court Act states that “the juvenile court shall automatically order the expungement of the juvenile court and law enforcement records 2 years after the juvenile's case was closed if no delinquency or criminal proceeding is pending and the person has had no subsequent” delinquency or criminal convictions. Illinois Legal Aid Online, Illinois Automatic Expungement Eligibility (illustration), https://www.illinoislegalaid.org/sites/default/files/attachments/illinois_automatic_juvenile_expungement_eligibility.pdf; 705 ILCS 405/5-915 (West 2023) (emphasis added).
The key word in this section of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 is “and:” through automatic expungements, a person's juvenile record must be removed from the databases of the local police departments, the Illinois State Police, and the courts that held jurisdiction over each incident listed on a person's record. However, while local police departments and the Illinois State Police orderly and punctually abide by this law, the courts oftentimes do not, causing expunged juvenile records to still appear on the courts' databases. Although juvenile criminal records are confidential documents that are sealed to the general public, schools and employers who conduct background checks on potential new students or employees, respectively, easily can view the case dockets that include a potential new student or employee's juvenile criminal record. Upon seeing the record, schools and employers many a times deny an individual enrollment or employment. In this unfortunate scenario, it may be in the best interest for an individual to file a petition to expunge his or her juvenile criminal records with the proper court(s) to ensure that those court(s) uphold the automatic expungements. Furthermore, for delinquent charges that do not qualify for automatic expungements (i.e. first degree murder, reckless homicide, kidnapping, criminal sexual assault, stalking, cyberstalking, ritualized child abuse, arson, resisting a peace officer, harassment, possession of a deadly substance), the only way to attempt to expunge those charges is to file a petition to expunge with the appropriate juvenile court(s).
Automatic expungements provide adults and young adults who hold juvenile criminal records with a clean slate; these individuals are given a chance of not being defined by the poor decisions that they made during their developmental years, which in turn, provides these individuals with an opportunity to obtain professional degrees and stable jobs. Through these educational and career accomplishments, people with previous delinquent records can demonstrate to society how they have learned from their past mistakes and have grown into more mature, law-abiding citizens. Despite the intended simplicity of automatic expungements, a variety of issues may still arise, particularly when juvenile courts do not uphold the provisions outlined in the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 and delay the automatic expungements of juvenile records. Furthermore, determining which charges qualify for automatic expungements can involve heavy research. In the event that a delinquent charge does not qualify for an automatic expungement, completing and filing a petition to expunge requires providing a large amount of significantly detailed information and even attending a court hearing on the matter.
Therefore, if you hold a juvenile criminal record and are unsure if a charge on your juvenile record qualifies for an automatic expungement, or if you generally are interested in filing a petition to expunge with a court, CTM Legal Group can provide you with the necessary assistance. Please call our office at 312-818-6700 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys. We will provide you with the answers to all your questions and will guide you every step of the way throughout the expungement process.