How Do I Get My Criminal Record Sealed in Illinois?


If some time has passed since you finished serving your sentence, you may wonder, “How can I get my criminal record sealed in Illinois?” A criminal record is created upon arrest. It doesn’t go away if you are released without charge or eventually found not guilty. These records may be seen by the public, including potential employers, unless they are sealed or expunged.

What Is the Difference Between Expunging And Sealing?

There are several key differences between expungement and sealing. Let’s explore each concept in detail.


Expungement is erasing or “wiping” an individual’s criminal record. This course of action can be pursued for charges that have been dismissed, instances where a person is found not guilty after trial, or when a sentence of court supervision follows a guilty plea. In Illinois, convictions—including probation, conditional discharge, payment of fines, and jail/prison sentences—are not eligible for expungement.

However, if your records are initially ineligible for expungement but expunging them would be the appropriate remedy, you can file a petition for clemency (commonly known as a “pardon”) to obtain “special permission” from the Governor of Illinois to expunge these otherwise ineligible records.


Sealing a criminal record involves concealing convictions from public view, although law enforcement and certain agencies conducting fingerprint-based background checks still retain access to these records. An early conviction of any kind makes you ineligible for expungement. Under Illinois law, “seal” means “to physically and electronically maintain the records . . . but to make the records unavailable without a court order, subject to [certain] exceptions,” and to “obliterate” the person’s name from the official index kept by the circuit court clerk.

While not as comprehensive as expungement, sealing remains a valuable recourse for many individuals in Illinois who struggle to secure employment because of a criminal record.

Illinois has expanded the eligibility criteria for record sealing over time, with the majority of convictions, including felonies, now eligible for sealing relief—unless the individual remains listed on a public registry (such as the Sex Offender Registry, Murderer and Violence Against Youth Registry, Arsonist Registry, etc.) or has a conviction for a Class A misdemeanor or higher related to cruelty against animals.

‍Which Criminal Records Can Be Sealed or Expunged?

Expunging or sealing criminal records in Illinois is governed by the Illinois Criminal Identification Act (20 ILCS 2630/0.01, et seq.). If you’ve never been convicted of a criminal offense, you can seek expungement for arrests or charges that meet specific criteria. These criteria include:

  • Acquittal, dismissal, or release without charges
  • A vacated or reversed conviction
  • Completion of court supervision
  • Completion of qualified probation.

“Qualified probation” includes probation for first-time drug violations and certain other first-offender probations specified in Section 5.2(a)(1)(J) of the Criminal Identification Act. This includes probation under the “Offender Initiative Program” and “Second Chance Probation.”

A criminal conviction prevents the expungement of the specific offense and any related arrests or charges on your record. However, completed court supervision and qualified probation orders are not considered “convictions” according to the Act. An exception is made for expungement if you’ve been declared “factually innocent” by clear and convincing evidence, even with other convictions on your record.

Minor traffic offenses, excluding DUI, reckless driving, driving on a suspended or revoked license, and driving without a valid license, are not obstacles to expungement. Conviction for DUI, reckless driving, and driving on a suspended or revoked license prevent the expungement of related criminal charges and arrests.

If you’ve never been convicted of a criminal offense, you can expunge records of arrests or charges, except for completed supervision for sex offenses against minors, completed supervision for DUI, and completed supervision for reckless driving (unless occurring before age 25 with no other reckless driving or DUI offenses on record). While supervision for these offenses cannot be expunged, it does not impede the expungement of other records, as supervision is not considered a conviction.

When Can a Criminal Record Be Expunged?

Most felony and misdemeanor convictions can be sealed after your petition to the court is approved, three years after the end of your last sentence. Several deferred adjudication programs involving “qualified probation” for minor drug crimes can be sealed after waiting two to five years.

There’s no waiting period for cases involving dismissal without charge or acquittal. There is also no waiting in felony cases if you earned a high school diploma, associate’s degree, career certificate, vocational-technical certification, bachelor’s degree, or a GED during your sentence.

Offenses not eligible for record sealing include DUI, sex crimes, animal care crimes, and domestic battery. Those subject to registration under the following laws are ineligible until they’re removed from the registry:

You can ask to have several convictions sealed in the same proceeding. But if you commit a felony after the date your prior ones were sealed, it will remain open to the public. The court could order the unsealing of earlier felony conviction records.

Why Seal Your Criminal Record?

Any company willing to spend the money can do a criminal background check on you. How to get your criminal record sealed can be a good thing to know. It may be easier to have an application approved if you can prevent their chance of finding your criminal record.

If you’re directly asked whether you’ve been convicted of a crime, how you respond will be up to you. If you say no but the party learns the truth another way, you may lose what you were trying to get, whether a job or an apartment.

Renting a Home

If you want to rent a place, it’s very common for potential landlords or agents to run a criminal record check. Depending on the landlord, how important that record will be may vary. But if you can avoid the problem, it’s one less issue to deal with.

Taking Out a Loan

Many banks and financial institutions run criminal checks, especially if you’re applying for credit. If a loan application was rejected in the past, your criminal record may be the reason.

Applying for a Job

Before hiring someone new, businesses, especially larger ones, will typically ask if you have a criminal record. The question may be specifically about past felonies. Under Illinois law, there can’t be questions about criminal backgrounds during the application phase. A potential employer can ask you about convictions if you’re being interviewed or given a conditional job offer.

Applying for College

Felons can face challenges when applying to college or seeking on-campus housing. You may be asked about your criminal history, or the school may do a criminal records check. If you have a criminal record, you can’t get loans or some grants from the federal government, but you may qualify for other types of grants and programs.

Colleges are most concerned about keeping off campus people who may have a higher risk of violence. The popularity of online classes has exploded. If you use that method, since you won’t be in class or living on campus, a school may not care whether you have a criminal record or not.

How Wolfe & Stec Criminal Defense Lawyers Help You

At Wolfe & Stec, our team of dedicated criminal defense lawyers understands the significant impact a criminal record can have on various aspects of your life. Whether you seek employment, housing, or a fresh start, our experienced attorneys are here to guide you through sealing or expunging your criminal record in Illinois. Here is how we can help:

  • Case Evaluation: Our first step is to evaluate your case thoroughly. We will review the details of your criminal record, assess your eligibility for sealing or expungement, and provide you with a clear understanding of the steps involved in the process.
  • Eligibility Assessment: Determining your eligibility for record sealing is crucial. Illinois law has specific criteria that must be met, including the type of offense, the disposition of the case, and the completion of waiting periods. Our attorneys will carefully assess your situation and advise you on whether sealing or expunging your record is a viable option.
  • Petition Preparation: Sealing or expunging a criminal record involves filing a petition with the court. Our legal team will meticulously prepare and file the necessary documents, including all required information. We work diligently to present a strong case highlighting your rehabilitation and why your record should be sealed.
  • Representation in Court: In some cases, a court hearing may be necessary to plead your case for record sealing. Our criminal defense lawyers are prepared to represent you during these proceedings, presenting a persuasive argument on your behalf and addressing any challenges that may arise.
  • Communication With Relevant Agencies: After a successful petition, our attorneys communicate with relevant agencies, ensuring your criminal record is properly sealed. This includes notifying law enforcement agencies, the Illinois State Police, and other entities that may have records of your past convictions.
  • Post-Sealing Support: Our commitment doesn’t end with the court order. We are dedicated to supporting you in the post-sealing phase. We can guide you in addressing inquiries about your criminal history and assist you in pursuing new opportunities without the burden of a visible criminal record.

Contact Wolfe & Stec for Representation You Can Trust

We all make mistakes. You may be able to make a fresh start. After your criminal record is sealed, many new opportunities may open up for you. Our country believes in second chances. There are legal methods to keep your past away from those wanting to know too much.

Start anew and put away your criminal past. Get an honest legal opinion about your record and then devise a plan about how to pursue sealing it.

Contact a lawyer at Wolfe & Stec at 630-305-0222 for a free initial consultation. We’re here to help.

Attorney Marc Wolfe

Marc Wolfe has been representing clients in criminal matters in Chicago and the entire State of Illinois for over 30 years. Mr. Wolfe has tried over 300 cases to verdict and represents clients facing investigation or prosecution for a broad range of state and federal criminal offenses, including murder, embezzlement, sexual abuse, drugs, marijuana and white collar crimes. [ Attorney Bio ]