Congratulations to those receiving pardons! You will now be eligible to petition the Court to have the criminal records expunged.
Today, Illinois Governor released a batch of 20 executive clemency decisions ahead of the President's Day weekend. Of the 20 decisions, six were granted and fourteen were denied. The convictions which received pardons included retail theft, burglary, battery and forgery.
Congratulations to those receiving pardons! You will now be eligible to petition the Court to have the criminal records expunged.
Governor Rauner signed a bill today that expands the number of cases eligible for sealing in Illinois. Previously, most misdemeanors and only a select few felonies were eligible for sealing. If you were convicted of a low-level felony that wasn't specifically eligible, then you likely could petition the Prisoner Review Board to gain sealing eligibility. For anyone not eligible for this relief, the only option was to seek clemency from the Governor.
But now with the change in the law, most felony convictions become eligible for sealing without the need for special approval. The new law takes effect immediately. If you have a case the was previously only eligible for a pardon, contact my office to see if the new law applies to you.
Today, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner released a batch of executive clemency decisions to kick off the weekend prior to the Fourth of July. Of the 114 clemency actions, 10 were granted and 104 were denied. The petitions granted included pardons for theft, burglary, drug crimes, forgery and misdemeanor assault.
Congratulations for those receiving their well-earned pardons! Now you will be able to move forward with your rights intact and you can petition the court to have the criminal records expunged. For those denied or still pending, don't give up hope because your time may still come!
The Illinois legislature recently passed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis. If Governor Rauner signs the bill, the new law would make the possession of less than 15 grams of cannabis a civil violation, punishable by a fine no more than $125. Currently, possession of small amounts of cannabis is subject to arrest for criminal misdemeanor charges which can result in hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines and costs, and potentially even jail time.
This step toward decriminalization is not new in Illinois. Many local municipalities, including Chicago, already have directives in place for their police departments to issue tickets for small cannabis possession, rather than arresting the offender. However, those ordinance violations, despite intending to “decriminalize,” still do in fact create criminal records for the defendants. Not only are the ordinance violations visible to the public just like any other criminal charge, but a conviction for it can undermine a person’s eligibility to expunge another case, even if that other case would otherwise be eligible to expunge.
Where this bill is truly different though is that it proposes to also change the Criminal Identification Act, which establishes the laws for expunging and sealing criminal records in Illinois. If it becomes law, the bill would make courts and police agencies expunge the tickets from their records automatically every six months. This is a major shift in treatment for these types of cases. No other adult records in Illinois (criminal cases or ordinance violations) automatically expunge. Even if you are arrested by mistake and released right away, you must still petition the court to expunge the case from the police records.
By automatically expunging the records, the Illinois legislature is essentially saying that they are not concerned with repeated cannabis violators. In fact, the idea may be to account for them as a tax on cannabis use over its prohibition. Regardless, this bill would certainly lead to fewer criminal records for people doing something that is quickly trending toward acceptable in Illinois and the United States.
As we pointed out in June, the Illinois legislature passed a bill that changed the Criminal Identification Act to make most misdemeanor violent crimes eligible for sealing. Last week, Governor Quinn signed the bill, as was expected, officially making it law. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2015.
Prior to this change, anybody convicted of a violent crime (misdemeanor or felony) could not expunge or seal that case. The only option was executive clemency. Now that another avenue has opened for those sentenced to misdemeanor level violent offenses, it will help many to pass the background checks that had been standing in the way of them moving on with their lives.
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.
City Hall is apparently doing its research. When word initially got out about the impending proposal to issue tickets for small cannabis possession in Chicago, no distinction was drawn between juveniles and adults. As I outlined at the time, juveniles would be harmed by the change because convictions for ordinance violations would not be expungeable, while criminal charges are expungeable. Juveniles in counties that passed similar measures have been victimized by this oversight.
The Mayor’s office will not make the same mistake. When Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s official plan was released, it included the addition that juveniles must still be arrested and processed as they were under the old plan. This is certainly preferable because then the City and police can still send the message they want to send, without leaving the youths with a permanent black mark on their record.
The so-called “decriminalization” of cannabis will still likely lead to an increase in the number of convictions and criminal backgrounds for adults, as I have explained previously. However, at least the plan won’t strip juveniles of the opportunities that Illinois expungement law is designed to protect.
Ironically, Proposed Chicago Ordinance to "Decriminalize" Pot Could Increase Number of Criminal Records
There are many pragmatic reasons why Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle support the proposed Chicago ordinance which will allow police officers to issue tickets for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The ordinance would likely increase revenue for the city, while at the same time it would allow police the freedom to focus on more important matters. However, one reason thrown out in support of “decriminalization” is that it will prevent people from needlessly carrying criminal records. Sadly, this proposed ordinance would likely increase this result.
Many background check companies look for and report ordinance violations, so it is not as if these tickets will be invisible. On top of that, the influx of ordinance violations will make clearing criminal records more difficult. Currently, most people arrested for possession of small amounts of cannabis are able to avoid major penalty. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, 90% of the misdemeanor cannabis cases in Cook County from 2006-2010 were dropped. For the few first-offenders whose cases aren’t dropped, they usually receive court supervision. Under each of these scenarios, the charge can be expunged as if it never happened.
But under Illinois expungement law, convictions for ordinance violations can prevent a person from expunging an otherwise expungeable criminal record. In some cases, they can even prevent expungeable offenses from even getting sealed. I fear that many will simply pay the small fine, accept a conviction, and not realize the implications of what they are agreeing to.
The people most hurt by this procedural change would actually be juveniles. Unlike with criminal charges, juveniles can be convicted of ordinance violations. To make matters worse, those ordinance violations are not automatically sealed. The laws in Illinois are designed to prevent mistakes made by kids from following them for the rest of their lives, but this ordinance would subvert those intentions.
This is precisely what happened to a former client of mine. In a county that had already adopted this “decriminalization” procedure, he was convicted of the ordinance violation for marijuana at age 15. Years later, he wanted to become a cop, but was denied due to having a drug conviction, an automatic bar for that agency. He could have had the ordinance violation sealed, but police are one of the few agencies capable of seeing sealed records. That meant his only option to become a police officer was to seek a Governor’s pardon, which can be a costly process that often takes years. If instead he had been charged as a juvenile for the criminal offense of possession of cannabis, he could have quickly and easily expunged it.
So, while the proposed Chicago ordinance to lower the severity of small marijuana possession certainly has it merits, the change in procedure would not be without its warts as well.
Earlier this week, the Chicago Sun-Times ran an editorial that is close to my heart. They were calling for stringent accuracy standards on companies that perform background checks. As they point out, thousands of job seekers have been denied employment because of mistakes by these background check companies, according to the National Consumer Law Center.
This information comes as no surprise to me. Often, clients will come to me to find out if they are eligible to expunge or seal and they’ll have with them background checks performed by these private companies. I always tell them that we can’t know for certain unless we actually pull the case information from the court records because private background check companies are notoriously inaccurate.
While the Sun-Times editorial focused on errors that reported crimes never performed by the applicant, this is only part of the problem. People can also be harmed by what the background checks don’t show. Many people will have a background check performed on themselves in order to find out if some old case can still come back to bite them. They don’t realize that every background check company will have their own processes for research and reporting. Some will look at a person’s entire criminal history, but for only the last 7 or 10 years. Others will look into a person’s entire life, but only report convictions. Others still, just felony charges. When there is no standardization, there is no telling what criminal offenses the background check companies will find. Throw in the high rate of errors and these background checks become highly unreliable.
The unreported “missing” cases can hurt people in a couple ways: (1) Any arrest can affect a person’s eligibility for an expungement or sealing, so it is important to know every single charge a person has ever received. (2) They can also lull people into a false sense of security that a case is no longer visible so there’s no need to clear it from their record. Just because it hasn’t appeared on one background check, doesn’t mean that it isn’t coming up on others.
While there are some measures in place to try to prevent employment discrimination against those with criminal records, the Sun-Times properly points out that “…in the real world, job applicants may never know why they weren’t called in for an interview. The Society for Human Resource Management says 93 percent of employers ran background checks on some applicants in 2010 and 73 percent checked all of them.” So I applaud the Chicago Sun-Times for bringing to light the injustice that this carelessness can bring.
With the impending 2012 NATO summit here in Chicago, many are concerned about possible clashes between the Chicago police and NATO protesters. Indeed, the first set of arrests have already occurred a week before the summit. But as this is no longer 1968, I don’t imagine we’ll see the level of violence that occurred in Grant Park. I don’t believe anyone wants to see a repeat of that.
For those protestors that are arrested, most would likely be able to clear their record. Typical arrests for protestors are for misdemeanor level charges like criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, resisting a peace officer, etc. Often times these charges are dropped fairly quickly, as the main purpose of the arrest is usually to establish order in the given situation. If the charges are dropped, then the defendant can expunge the arrest from their record so long as they have no prior convictions. If the defendant receives court supervision, then she will be able to expunge the case as well, but will have to wait a couple years. If the defendant has a prior conviction, or is convicted of this charge, then they will be able to seal the charge rather than expunge.
The concern for an arrested protester is to avoid convictions for violent crimes, such as assault or battery. Convictions for violent crimes are not eligible to expunge or seal. The only way to clear these from your criminal record is through executive clemency (Governor’s pardon).
We provide criminal defense legal services in Illinois, focusing on the expungement and sealing of criminal records.