Criminal backgrounds create a difficult barrier for people trying to find employment. Expunging and sealing criminal records lifts this barrier and increases a person’s chance for finding gainful employment. But in running background checks after a record has been cleared, who sees what?

Illinois law provides two remedies to removing the trail connecting a person to his/her prior encounter with law enforcement. Expungement, the better of the two remedies, is for those cases that did not result in conviction. Through expunging, the arrest record is purged from public view. Sealing is available where there was a conviction. While the general public cannot view the record of a conviction, specific groups can view it.

Arrests With No Convictions: Expungement of Records

When an Illinois judge orders an expungement of records, the three agencies that have a paper trail attached to each case number are told to do something with that paper trail. The arresting agency and the Illinois State Police are ordered to physically destroy their paper trail associated to the case numbers listed on the order. The court clerk’s office is told to impound their records – meaning put in the deep, dark recesses of a warehouse never to see light ever again. The law gives these agencies two months to comply with the judge’s order.

In the end, because the records are physically destroyed, no one will be able to see the records, not even law enforcement. The court clerk’s public records will show that no record is found on its computer system. Thus, expungement is a great tools toward clearing a person’s arrest record making it as if nothing ever happened.

Convictions: Sealing of Records

When an Illinois judge orders a sealing of records, then the three agencies that have a paper trail attached to those case numbers are told to seal the paper trail. With sealing, the general public will not see the record. However, the record will remain visible to law enforcement. If the record included felony convictions, then those industries that require a fingerprint background check will also see the record of the felony convictions. These industries include health care, working with children, and the financial industries.

Example: David Defendant Wants to Get Hired

David Defendant has a record that includes a Class A Misdemeanor battery that resulted in a conviction. David Defendant also has a Class 1 Felony that resulted in a dismissal. The judge orders an expungement for the felony and a sealing of the misdemeanor conviction. David applies to work at both a landscaping company and a hospital’s cafeteria. For the hospital job, he gives his fingerprint for a background check. Both employers will see no criminal record in the background report. The felony arrest was expunged (destroyed). The misdemeanor conviction would not be visible since it was a misdemeanor conviction which, under seal, is not visible to the general public or to the health care industry. Thus, David Defendant’s employment application becomes as clean as Perfect Parker’s application, leveling the playing field for David to get hired.