Illinois lawmakers pass Cook County expungement and sealing reforms

Illinois lawmakers pass Cook County expungement and sealing reforms

If signed, HB 6328 will remove expungement fees in Cook County for those who were arrested but never convicted.

Among the several positive criminal-justice reform bills the General Assembly passed this session is a bill to remove unfair fees to clear the records of people with arrest records for crimes they were never convicted of committing.

Even if someone was never convicted of a crime, his or her arrest record still remains. Under Illinois law, people have to petition the court to expunge or seal an arrest record and pay a fine for a record to be cleared from your name.

House Bill 6328 establishes a pilot program in Cook County that removes the $120 or more in expungement and sealing fees for anyone charged with an offense that resulted in “release without charging,” arrests resulting in “acquittal, dismissal” or a conviction that was later vacated or reversed. It also amends the law to allow those with convictions to petition to remove other charges not resulting in conviction from their records. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

An earlier version of the bill would have removed expungement and sealing fees throughout the state. In other counties, this can cost as much as $300 or $400. But opponents, like Illinois State Police and court clerks, objected to the bill because of the revenue that would be lost from expungement fees.

Innocent people shouldn’t be stuck paying just because the government has gotten used to taking in revenue from them.

Even though it’s limited to Cook County, if signed, HB 6328 would still be a significant step forward, as most arrests in Illinois occur in Cook County. According to the Cook County Sheriff’s office, “17 percent of the more than 70,000 people who enter Cook County Jail every year get released as a result of having their cases dropped or being found not guilty.” That’s almost 12,000 people per year.

One of the U.S. justice system’s most important principles is defendants are innocent until proven guilty. If they are not proven guilty, they shouldn’t be punished with a criminal record, which can ruin lives. Criminal records make it harder to find jobs, can bar applicants from securing housing, getting an occupational or professional license and educational loans. The government already makes rehabilitation excessively difficult for people who do have convictions – someone who isn’t convicted of a crime should ever have to deal with the consequences of a record.

No one should have to pay the government to correct a mistake government made. HB 6328 takes a step toward correcting this injustice in Illinois.

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