Two Ways to Put a Criminal Record Behind You

Most of us have made mistakes that we are not proud of, but we have put those errors behind us. A criminal record is different. No matter how much you have changed your life since you were convicted of a felony, it stays on your record.

That means whenever you apply for a job, you must disclose your record on the application. Or the employer will find your record when they conduct a background check. It’s the same thing when you try to get a bank loan, find an apartment or get into college. Your past continues to haunt you, even if your conviction happened ten or 20 years ago — or even longer.

Fortunately, there may be a solution. You can ask the court to expunge or seal your criminal record.

Expungement vs. sealing

Expungement and sealing are similar but not quite the same thing. When the court expunges your record, it essentially erases it so that it will not show up on a background check. You can legally say “no” when asked in a job interview or on a loan application if you have ever been charged with a felony. However, Illinois’ expungement laws are fairly strict. Convictions cannot be expunged unless you completed a diversion program instead of a traditional conviction and sentence, or if you underwent supervision (probation). And certain crimes, such as DUI, cannot be expunged in any case.

That leaves record sealing. The general public cannot dig up a sealed criminal record, and you can ask to have nearly any felony conviction sealed. However, certain jobs require employers to conduct background checks, and those employers will still have access to your record. These include government jobs like police officer and firefighter. Hospitals and daycares can also see a sealed criminal record. Still, most of the time, sealing your record is as effective as expunging it.

Leaving the past in the past

Taking steps to seal or expunge your record can be a big boost to your career and help you find a better place to live. It can also feel like putting your past behind you at last.