Illinois Senate unanimously votes to help wrongfully accused clear their name

Illinois Senate unanimously votes to help wrongfully accused clear their name

Illinois state senators voted 53-0 to extend a pilot program that would waive the fee to expunge or seal records for those wrongfully arrested or charged with a crime in Cook County.

The Illinois Senate voted unanimously April 4 to make it easier for those wrongly accused of crimes in Cook County to have their records expunged. Lawmakers in the upper chamber voted 53-0 to advance the measure, with six lawmakers not voting. The bill now moves to the Illinois House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 482, introduced by state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, would extend a pilot program in Cook County to waive fees for people wrongly accused when they petition to have criminal records expunged or sealed. The bill would apply to individuals released without charges, who were acquitted, whose charges were dismissed or those who had a conviction reversed or vacated.

House members should follow the Senate in recognizing SB 482 would improve Illinois’ criminal justice system. A criminal record – even after time served and a life rebuilt – can haunt someone for life. But a wrongful arrest or conviction is even more unjust, and collecting fees from someone wrongfully accused to correct that error is just another undeserved penalty.

Unfortunately, wrongful arrests in Cook County appear all too common: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has said nearly 20 percent of arrestees in Cook County jail ultimately have their charges dropped. But as it stands now, the county charges the wrongfully accused a $120 fee to have their records sealed or expunged.

Cook County – and the rest of the state – should not charge those wrongfully accused a fee just to restore their good name. Illinois senators unanimously agreed by passing SB 482, and Illinois House members should follow suit.

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