New Illinois law offers fresh start to those convicted of certain felonies

Besides the fines and prison sentences, those convicted of a felony often find that they have to clear a major hurdle — reintegrating back into society. Because of the conviction, many find it hard to find a job or qualify for housing, which makes it significantly more difficult to adopt a law-abiding lifestyle. Many of those with convictions on their records turn back to a life of crime, as a result.

To help lower the rate of recidivism and to give certain offenders a second chance, the Illinois Legislature recently proposed a bill that would allow those convicted of certain felony offenses the opportunity to seal their criminal records. Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed the proposal into law.

If an applicant successfully applies under the new law to have his or her criminal record sealed, it means that the general public will not be able to have access to the record. Unlike expungement, sealing the record does not completely destroy the record of the conviction. Law enforcement, courts and certain government agencies will still be able to access the conviction.

Although the record is still technically there, sealing provides an important benefit. Job and housing applicants with sealed records can leave their sealed criminal charges and convictions off the application form, as the record will not show up on background checks. As many landlords or employers refuse to consider applicants with a criminal record, this law should, in theory, give offenders an equal chance.

Provisions Of The Law

The new law works by expanding the type of offenses that are eligible to be sealed. Under the prior Illinois law, offenders could only have their records sealed if they were convicted of a nonviolent misdemeanor or certain low-level nonviolent felonies (some drug offenses or prostitution).

Under the new law, offenders convicted of the following nonviolent felonies are now eligible to apply to have their records sealed:

  • Burglary (or possession of burglary tools)
  • Possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance
  • Possession of a stolen vehicle
  • Retail theft
  • Forgery

In general, most convicted of these offenses are eligible to apply to have their record sealed four years after the sentence is completed. The new law offers offenders a "one shot" chance, meaning that if he or she is convicted of another felony once the records have been sealed, he or she cannot apply to have the subsequent conviction(s) sealed as well. In addition, a court has the discretion to order the unsealing of previously sealed records upon a subsequent felony conviction.

Consult An Attorney

The new law offers many of those convicted of nonviolent felonies a fair chance at a job and affordable housing. However, even with the changes brought by the new law, once a conviction has been made, it takes a significant amount of time for offenders to qualify for having their records sealed. As a result, it is important to fight all criminal charges at the onset. If you have been accused of a crime, a criminal defense attorney can help you prepare an effective defense and ensure that your rights are protected.