Recently, the Illinois Senate passed a bill which would expand the universe of cases eligible for sealing. The Illinois House previously passed it in March. Assuming that Governor Quinn signs the bill, it will allow those convicted of most misdemeanor violent crimes to seal those cases. Previously, any violent crime conviction, misdemeanor or felony, was not eligible to seal or expunge. The only option to remove these types of offenses from a criminal record was executive clemency. Under this new bill, misdemeanor violent offenses (except for a few listed exceptions, such as domestic battery) will be eligible to be sealed by the court directly.
One common expungement misconception that I often hear is the notion that, after a certain length of time, the criminal record will automatically expunge. This is not the case, no matter how old a case may be. However, that may change for certain juvenile records. Under a new bill proposed by Rep. Arthur Turner, arrest records of juveniles will automatically expunge when the juvenile reaches 18 years old. The automatic expungement would only be for juveniles that were arrested and released without being charged in court.
This is a good bill because it protects juveniles that may not be well-informed of the judicial process. Most juvenile records are eligible for expunging after a certain length of time, depending on the details of the case. For those juveniles that are arrested and charged in court, they will be informed of their ability to expunge during the adjudication. Their defense attorneys or the judge will be there to explain when and how the juvenile can expunge the case from her criminal record. But if a juvenile is arrested and released right away, she may not ever speak with an attorney to learn her eligibility. She may not even realize that a record of the arrest is made and kept.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, about 75% of juvenile arrests in Cook County do not result in charges. These juveniles shouldn’t be punished for their cases not being as severe as those for whom a delinquency petition was filed. Otherwise they may only learn of their need for an expungement after a job/opportunity was already lost.
Recently, two state legislators announced that they will co-sponsor a bill to eliminate Cook County’s boot camp program. The main thrust of their opposition to the program comes from a Sun-Times investigation which discovered that some ineligible defendants were given boot camp. They argue that the program is flawed and fundamentally unfair to those convicted in the rest of the state.
I strongly disagree with their proposal. For one, conviction rates and sentence severity has always varied from county to county. So the “fairness” argument rings hollow when the location an offense is committed has always affected how the case will play out.
In my line of work, I have come across many former offenders that truly credit boot camp for turning their life around. Boot camp serves as the wake-up call that these people need to rehabilitate. In addition, because those convicted serve months rather than years, they are less of a strain on the overburdened and overfilled Illinois prison system. But make no mistake, boot camp is no walk in the park. It is an intensive program, but still allows defendants to avoid the pitfalls of spending years in prison. It is much easier to rehabilitate when you re-enter the world quickly with a new outlook than it is after you have become habituated to prison life.
Even if some people convicted were wrongly given boot camp, abolishing the whole program amounts to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Now that there has been so much attention brought to the sentencing guidelines as it relates to boot camp, I do not imagine that there will be such widespread error in sentencing anymore. If there are still flaws, then work to fix them rather than lazily throwing out something that does have positive results.
By now you’ve probably heard at least one story of someone who was released from prison after serving time – sometimes many years – for a crime they didn’t commit. The exonerations often come through updated DNA tests and the diligent efforts of Innocence Project groups. This work is certainly commendable. Although it must be a huge relief for individuals to have their conviction overturned, many may not realize that their criminal record still remains.
As the New York Times has reported, exonerated individuals often have a hard time assimilating back into society. In particular, it’s difficult to find a job. Unfortunately, many employers discard all applicants who have anything on their criminal record, regardless of the severity of the offense or whether the charges resulted in a conviction. The best way to improve your chances is to request that your state expunge the case from your record.
Some states have difficult requirements for getting a record cleared. In Alaska, for example, you actually have to prove your innocence in order to get a record sealed. This is a bigger hurdle than proving the state did not have sufficient evidence to convict.
Thankfully, in Illinois, it’s a relatively quick and straightforward process to get your record expunged after you’ve been exonerated. If your case occurred in Illinois, contact us at the Bryant Chavez Law Office for a free consultation.
This weekend, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law bills aimed at helping those with a criminal record to restart their lives. As previously discussed, one of these new laws will increase a tax incentive for employers to hire ex-offenders.
However, the biggest change in the law for record clearing purposes is a further expansion of felony convictions eligible for sealing. Previously, the only felony convictions eligible for sealing were Class 4 level drug possession or prostitution unless special authorization was granted by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. But under this new law, sealing eligibility will also include Class 3 and Class 4 level theft, retail theft, forgery, possession of burglary tools, and deceptive practices.
When the bill was originally introduced, it also included Class 2 level felony cases burglary, delivery of a controlled substance, and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. But, these offenses were later deleted as the bill was amended. If you were convicted of any of these felonies, your option for clearing it from your criminal record is still executive clemency (Governor’s pardon).
The 2014 Illinois Governor’s race is starting to ramp up, as former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley threw his hat into the ring this week. If state Attorney General Lisa Madigan also decides to run, the incumbent Pat Quinn could end up with a fierce three-way battle in the Democratic primary. And that’s if Quinn decides to run for re-election, which he has not publicly announced yet. There are also several Republican candidates already in the race, including state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Senator Kirk Dillard.
Since Governor Quinn has proven himself to be one of the most pro-pardon governors in the country, I have recently heard from clients who are nervous about what will happen if a new governor takes over in 2014. Since 2009, Quinn has steadily worked his way through the backlog of clemency petitions left over from the Blagojevich administration. By regularly issuing decisions and granting those to individuals who have paid their debt to society and shown rehabilitation, he shows that he is respectfully reviewing the requests. Would Governor Daley, Madigan, Rutherford or Dillard act similarly? Can we point to anything in their experience that indicates a predilection to approve or deny pardons? Would any of them go the route of Blagojevich or Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and ignore the responsibility entirely?
The simple (but yes, unsatisfying) answer: we just don’t know. Granting pardons is one of the few powers that is entirely up to the discretion of the chief executive. Furthermore, on both the state and federal level, historically it has not been a partisan issue. You cannot predict how a leader will act on pardons based on his party affiliation.
Because of the uncertainty over who will take over the governor’s job, I have heard from a few individuals who are wondering if they should hurry and submit a pardon petition immediately, with the hopes it will come before Quinn while he’s still in office. My answer is that your best chance for receiving a pardon will be if you have shown years of productive rehabilitation and have taken steps to get your life back on track. If that’s not the case, it will be difficult to get your petition granted. The best time to submit a pardon is when your life is in the right place for it, not based on who is in office at the time. If you would like to discuss the merits of your particular case further, give me a call for a consultation.
In 1963, 18-year-old Richard Eggers and a friend visited a laundromat in Carlisle, Iowa. Bored and curious, Eggers decided to cut a dime-sized piece of cardboard out of his detergent box and see if it would work in the washing machine’s coin slot. Consequently, he was arrested and convicted of falsifying currency. He spent two days in jail.
Fast forward nearly 50 years. Eggers, a Vietnam Vet, has been working for the past seven years in a $29,795/year customer service job for Wells Fargo in Des Moines, Iowa. Out of the blue, his bosses at Wells Fargo inform him that he’s been fired because of the fake-dime conviction on his record.
Eggers’ employment was terminated as a result of new FDIC regulations which forbid banking institutions to employ anyone convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, breach of trust or money laundering. The laws were created as an attempt to combat mid-level and executive fraud in the wake of the devastating 2008 financial crisis. Members of the media and public have expressed outrage that thousands of low-level bank workers with minor arrests have been fired since the regulations were enacted. As a result of Eggers’ public campaign, he received a fast-tracked waiver from the FDIC to return to work at Wells Fargo. He refused to return, however, until Wells Fargo agrees to make changes to its background check process.
Although Eggers’ case has been highly publicized, there are countless other individuals across the country who are being denied employment due to increasingly used and increasingly stringent background checks. In addition to the banking industry, employers in many other fields (such as public schools and hospitals) are bound by law to conduct background checks. Many other private-sector companies choose to screen applicants with criminal records as a simple filter in a competitive job market. For ex-offenders who now live crime-free, productive lives, the imposing presence of background checks can seem like a permanent roadblock between them and their future success. However, that roadblock can be removed if a person is eligible under guidelines in his state to clear his record through an expungement, sealing or a Govenor’s pardon.
In Iowa, where Eggers lives, most adult criminal convictions are not eligible to be expunged from a person’s record. The only exceptions are for certain alcohol-related offenses, such as public intoxication, or for deferred judgments. The only option for all other offenses is to request a Governor’s pardon. However, in Iowa a pardon is only a state-sanctioned forgiveness for a crime; it does not carry with it a right to expunge the case from the petitioner’s criminal record. The mark remains on the ex-offender’s record forever.
Alternatively, if Eggers’s crime had occurred in Illinois, he would have the option to petition the Governor for executive clemency (pardon) which, if granted, would carry with it a right to expunge. Eggers would be a very good candidate for a pardon: this is the only case on his record and he has spent the following 50 years as a law-abiding, responsible citizen. The pardon petitioners I represent often have similar backgrounds. They made a mistake in their youth, but have since had many years without any incidents. These individuals have worked hard to rehabilitate themselves and contribute to society, yet their criminal past is keeping them from certain jobs, loans, housing, and other opportunities.
It’s also possible that if Eggers’s crime had occurred in Illinois and it was a misdeameanor, he would be eligible to seal the crime from his record (depending on the specific facts of his case, which I have not reviewed). When a record is sealed, it is closed off from the public, but is not physically destroyed as when it is expunged. Nonetheless, it is a simpler and faster process than requesting a Governor’s pardon. It’s possible that a sealing would be sufficient for Eggers’s situation.
A new state law that goes into effect this month has expanded the eligibility for sealing criminal records. Under the new legislation, ex-offenders can now petition the Prisoner Review Board for eligibility to seal a Class 3 and 4 felony conviction from their criminal records, so long as the charge was not for violence, sex, or DUI. Previously, the only convictions that were eligible to be sealed were Class 4 drug crimes and prostitution. The change in the law means the potential for many new individuals to have their records sealed from the public, allowing them expanded opportunities to fully integrate back into society.
Bipartisan bills were introduced in the Illinois House and Senate in February of last year. A final bill passed both houses in May, and was signed into law by Governor Quinn in August. Getting such legislation enacted is no easy task. According the Illinois Press Association, similar bills have been proposed in the last five years, but have failed to make it out of committee.
There is a waiting period and other stipulations under the new law, but contact us at the Bryant Chavez Law Office for a free consultation to determine your eligibility.
In a scene from a new documentary, Electoral Dysfunction, a group of Indiana political activists canvass a neighborhood, knocking on doors and registering voters. At one home, a polite older woman answers the door. They ask her if she’s registered. “No,” she responds. “I thought convicted felons can’t vote.”
They inform her that, actually, in Indiana, she is allowed to vote. Election laws vary from state to state. Once an Indiana resident has served his sentence, his voting rights are fully restored. This is the case in most U.S. states, although some also require the completion of parole and/or probation. Two states, Maine and Vermont, are more lenient. The laws in these states allow convicted individuals to vote while in jail, by absentee ballot. On the other end of the spectrum, nine states bar individuals convicted of certain crimes from voting for life.
The confusion may stem from the fact that, unlike most other leading democracies in the world, our national constitution does not include the right to vote. For this reason, Congress has had to pass several landmark pieces of legislation – the 15th Amendment, the 19th Amendment, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – to clarify who has the right to vote, and to protect those voters from discrimination and disenfranchisement.
But it is a tragic reality that millions of American citizens are disenfranchised every election, simply for having a criminal past. Officials in several states have decided that even after a person has paid his debt to society through a prison sentence, they are ineligible to participate in the democratic process. Worse still, these policies have leached into states without such restrictions. Many ex-felons, such as the Indiana woman in the film, don’t realize they are permitted to vote in their state. There are severe penalties for illegal voting, so it is understandable that ex-felons are reluctant to vote if they’re unsure of their rights.
In Illinois, the state constitution allows all non-incarcerated adult citizens to vote. If you live in Illinois and have a criminal record, you have the right to vote. You do not need to wait until the completion of supervision, parole or probation. Just make sure you’ve registered at least 30 days before an election – visit the State Board of Elections website for instructions.
At the Bryant Chavez Law Office, we believe your criminal past should not prevent you from leading a positive, fulfilled life. We work every day to help reformed individuals clear their criminal records, giving them expanded opportunities to contribute to society. This election day, we encourage you to exercise your right to vote. Millions of people aren’t so lucky.
In a case that will be closely watched by criminal justice advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Alaska. They're suing on behalf of a married couple who would like an arrest expunged from their criminal records. In Illinois, expunging an arrest that did not result in a conviction is a straightforward, relatively quick process. However, each state has its own guidelines for the clearing of criminal records. As the ACLU lawsuit has brought to light, Alaska is one of the very few states that does not allow expungement at all.
That includes unlawful arrests that the court dismisses, which is what happened to the plaintiffs. The couple was arrested for possession of marijuana plants, but a judge later dismissed the case due to police negligence and misconduct. The couple want the arrest expunged from their criminal records. They’re worried the mark will follow them into the future, and could bar them from certain jobs or opportunities. Many people don’t realize that any arrest can show up on a criminal background check, even if there wasn’t a conviction or the charges were dismissed.
When an arrest is expunged, the record is removed from databases and physically destroyed, as if it never happened. This is different from sealing a record, in which the record still exists but is closed off from the public. The statutory guidelines in Alaska don't have a section for expungement. Sealing is allowed, but only if the person can prove that the charges "beyond a reasonable doubt, resulted from mistaken identity or a false accusation." That is to say, if they can prove they're innocent. If a person was guilty of a crime but has since rehabilitated himself, there is no avenue in Alaska for him to clear his name and get a fresh start. That one mistake will follow him forever.
If a judge rules in the ACLU's favor, it would be a big win for the civil rights of Alaskan residents. In the meantime, we're thankful that in Illinois residents do have options for expungement, sealings and requests for executive clemency (pardons). It's easy to take for granted, but it can make a big difference for someone's future success.
We provide criminal defense legal services in Illinois, focusing on the expungement and sealing of criminal records.