The Illinois legislature has passed a bill that would remove expungment fees in Cook County for people who were never convicted. This is one of the most promising and positive changes to the expungement process. If you are arrested and your case is dismissed or you are found not guilty, even though you technically do not have a criminal record, a public record of the case exists and the only way to remove that public record is to petition the Court to expunge, or to remove the case from the public record. The expungment process can take several months, and depending on the county the case was in, could cost you several hundred dollars. House Bill 6328, which was passed in the last legislative session, would establish a pilot program in Cook County which would remove fees for cases resulting in “release without charging,” or an arrest which resulted in dismissal, acquittal or a conviction that was later overturned. An earlier version of the bill would have applied to every County in the State but received resistance from the Illinois State Police and Court Clerks who objected to the loss in revenue from the expungment fees paid. In a compromise measure the legislature established this pilot program which only applies to Cook County for now. It is somewhat offensive that government should profit from fees that innocent people have to pay to clear records that should never have existed to begin with. But in spite of the unfairness, this bill is a significant measure which will affect the lives of many people. Of the 70,000 people who enter Cook County Jail every year, roughly 12,000 of them end up having their cases dropped or are found not guilty. There’s no way to know how many more people have their cases dismissed, dropped or found not guilty who never entered Cook County Jail. This is really important because even though all these people were not convicted, the charges remain a public record which could make it very difficult to get a job. We frequently get calls from people seeking to expunge their backgrounds because they can’t get a job and consequently have no money to pay the fees needed to clear their record. It’s a viscous circle which is just plain wrong and unjust. Hopefully this bill will be seen as a giant step in fixing a giant injustice.
The bill is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
James Dimeas is an award winning Chicago criminal defense attorney and author with more than 23 years of experience aggressively helping his clients expunge their criminal records. If you need to have your record expunged in Illinois, contact me in Chicago (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096) or Lake (847-696-6458) for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.