Will an Illinois Expungement Erase my Whole Criminal History?

expungement lawyerOnce upon a time in America, there was no such thing as the internet! I know, right? It didn’t come into common use until the 1990s. Until then, people went to libraries when they needed to get the answer to something, no one had a “smart phone” or any type of cell phone and there was no such thing as searching for information “online” at all. So, when an employer wanted to check someone’s criminal background in Illinois, they needed to write a check, send it to the Illinois State Police Department, explain that they were a potential employer, and then wait. Within a week or so, they would then receive a copy of the person’s “rap sheet”, which is what a criminal background sheet is often referred to in Chicago and Illinois. It was a tedious process, but if someone wanted to know your criminal history (other than the police), it took a little while to accomplish.

What Does an Expungement Do?

  1. Erase Rap Sheet: When an expungement is granted, whether it’s in Cook, Lake, DuPage, Kane, Will or any other county in Illinois, the law that governs such an expungement is the same. The Judge’s Court Order instructs the Illinois State Police to expunge the arrest, conviction, supervision, probation or other entry from the State Rap Sheet.
  2. Destroy Internal Records: It also orders the Chicago Police Department (or whatever police department performed the arrest) to expunge/destroy whatever internal case file that they may have for this defendant. These materials include most importantly, the fingerprint card and mug shot, regardless of whether the prints were taken in ink and the photo was taken with an actual camera. If the fingerprints and mug shot were taken digitally, the order still instruct the police department to destroy or purge that data.
  3. Hide Court Records: Furthermore, an expungement order also instructs the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court (or whatever county court is involved) to seal the actual court file, so that no one may look into the file without a court order showing good cause for the request. This order also requires the clerk to remove the name/information of the defendant from the computer terminal so that it can no longer be seen.

Expungements Before the Internet

Although it was time-consuming for employers, it was in many ways better for employees and other subjects of such background investigations, compared to today. Some of the reasons why, included:

  1. One Source for Criminal Data: Although other sources for information about defendant’s criminal records existed in other states and on the federal level, for all practical purposes in Illinois, the Illinois State Police Rap Sheet was always the “go to” source for criminal history for police and employers alike. As such, an employer needed to be willing to wait for the results. So, sometimes, they just didn’t bother due to the hassle involved, which was good if you had some criminal background that you were glad to keep hidden.
  2. One-Stop Expungement Solution: Before the invention of the internet, because this criminal history information was centralized in basically one location (other than in federal records), once an Illinois expungement was successfully completed, a potential employer would generally have no realistic way to find information about a person elsewhere.

Expungements After the Internet

But with the advent of the internet came an explosive new industry devoted to data collection and thousands of new internet companies appeared. There used to be no method to search for information about a specific defendant, other than travelling to the courthouse and asking the clerk to pull a file for viewing. But today, virtually every county is online, and for a small fee or no fee at all, records can be quickly and expertly searched for criminal and traffic case information. Cook County, Lake County and DuPage County (to name just a few Illinois Counties), can be readily accessed by the public 24 hours a day for such information. This easy access to court records has been a great benefit to defendants who need to check on their court dates, see if they have a warrant, or determine whether their court date is by Zoom or in-person. But with every benefit often comes a down-side. Enter the data collection companies…

Some companies quickly determined that this free on-line data could be harvested for monetary gain. All they needed to do was grab and copy the data, store it on their personal servers, and then sell background checks to employers and other qualified applicants online. These types of background checks are marketed not only to employers, but to curious others as well, such as those in dating relationships.

How Data Collection Companies Affect Expungements

So, what does this even have to do with expungements? What it means is that although an expungement was once nearly a 100% guarantee that no one could ever find a trace of your expunged criminal record, that’s no longer exactly the case. That’s because by law, an expungement in Illinois only orders governmental parties to expunge or seal their records. It tells the Illinois State Police (ISP) to erase the notations off of the Rap Sheet, it tells the Chicago (or other local) police to destroy their internal file, mug shot and fingerprint data, and it tell the Clerk to hide and seal the records.

But what it doesn’t do is order any of the thousands of data collection companies to purge their internal data computer servers of the information. Why? The main reason is that Illinois law simply doesn’t authorize a judge to issue such an order. Courts are also always hesitant to order private companies to do things. Even if a judge could order such a thing, it’s not like there’s a specific list of such companies and new ones pop up every day.

What Can I Do if I Still Find My Information Online After an Expungement?

If after a successful expungement, you encounter a background check that still shows your court information, or if you find online information about that expunged court event, here’s what to do:

  1. Find the company’s contact information – Most data collection websites will have their contact information contained somewhere on their webpage, whether up at the top or way down near the bottom. It will usually say “contact us”. You may be able to find a phone number, but if not, there will usually be an email address contact at least.
  2. Contact the data company – Not all of these companies are even in the United States and some of them aren’t that interested in talking. Be persistent.
  3. Explain your situation – Let them know that this information is still coming up even though you had it expunged. Offer to produce a copy of the Court Order proving that it was expunged. If you don’t have a copy, ask your attorney about how to get one.
  4. What happens next will vary – People tend to have one of two basic experiences when requesting the removal of expunged information:
    • Legitimate data companies: Many such companies are merely in the business of providing a cost-effective and quicker alternative to the traditional process of ordering am Illinois State Police Rap Sheet. When provided with proof that the criminal charge was in fact expunged, they will likely agree to remove the information (usually free of charge) in the interest of keeping their data records true and correct.
    • Less than legitimate companies: Other companies seem to be mostly in the business of posting criminal histories specifically in the hopes that the person affected will at some point contact the company to request that the information be taken down. Data companies such as these will often require a monetary payment in order to do the work of adjusting their data.

 Speak to an Experienced Expungement Attorney Today

For more than 30 years, the attorneys of Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have helped clients with criminal and traffic matters, including expungements. Call us at (312) 644-0444 any time to discuss whether your case qualifies.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : May 26, 2023