Expunging “Criminal” Ordinance Violations

by John D. Ioakimidis, Esq,

Over the last several years, there has been a radical change in how municipalities and villages in Illinois prosecute low-level criminal activity. These government entities, now more than ever, prosecute cases such as theft, retail theft, assault, battery, and drug possession as violations of their respective ordinances as opposed to State law. By pursuing these cases at the village level, they are being decided in Village Hall and not in Circuit Court. Prosecuting cases at the Village level is a huge money-maker for the municipalities. They cost very little to prosecute, and since they’re not technically criminal cases under state law, you don’t have the rights as in a criminal case in Circuit Court. The rules of evidence are so relaxed that pretty much any evidence is admissible in “Village Court.” Further, to be found responsible in these cases, the prosecutor only has to prove that there is a greater than 50% chance that you violated the ordinance. In a criminal case in Circuit Court, the burden to convict guilty is beyond a reasonable doubt. The reason for the difference in the burden of proof is because ordinance violations are civil proceedings, although they look, feel, and sound like criminal cases. These ordinance cases almost always end up with a payment of a fine. On any given day, the municipality makes thousands of dollars.

A common thing you will hear is that these ordinance violations are civil cases, and they do not show up on background checks. Keep in mind a public record of the case remains with the Clerk at the municipality or village. A life-long public record at any level of committing a crime is not comforting for most people who care about their future and record.

Fortunately, under Illinois law, you can expunge your quasi-criminal ordinance violation without any waiting periods. To expunge your record, you have to go to Circuit Court and request that your village or municipality case be expunged. Aside from a Governor’s pardon, this is the only way to get the village or municipality to destroy your record.

You start by filing a Petition to Expunge in Circuit Court. Usually, expungement cases are decided by the Chief Judge in the given county. Often, the State’s Attorney will object to your Petition to Expunge. You have to be ready for your hearing because the prosecutor knows very little about you, your case, or the ordinance that you allegedly violated since the case was decided in “Village or Municipal Court.” Usually, a mitigation packet with your resume, accomplishments, certificates, and letters of recommendation is submitted to the State’s Attorney and the Court. The idea is to look your best before the judge during your hearing.

Not only do you have to know the facts of the case, but you must also be informed about the specific ordinance that was violated. Since each municipality has its own ordinance, the rules vary from town to town. In a recent case, I overcame the State Attorney’s objection for a retail theft case by focusing on the specific ordinance that was violated. The State wanted the case to be sealed, not expunged, and wanted my client to wait an additional three years to file for Expungement. The State was unaware that the specific ordinance didn’t provide for anything that disqualified my client from expunging her record.

The difference between expunging or sealing your record is that when you expunge your record, the record is completely destroyed. You can’t even get a copy after you expunge your case because the record no longer exists. On the other hand, when a record is sealed, law enforcement does have access to it; but the public does not. If you ever paid a ticket for a quasi-criminal case, there is a public record, and it’s wise to expunge it.

John D. Ioakimidis, is a nationally-recognized and award-winning attorney lawyer, with over-25 years of experience handling criminal cases in Chicago, Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, Lake County, Will County, and McHenry County. If you are considering expunging your record, call us 312-229-5500 for a free consultation.

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