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Q&A: How To Clear Your Cannabis Arrest Record Without Waiting For Automatic Expungement

Jeff Smudde / WGLT

Nearly half a million cannabis arrest records were expunged in the first year of recreational cannabis legalization in Illinois. Ten counties, including Peoria and Knox, are years ahead of schedule in automatically expunging all eligible records.

But for other communities, that process is still ongoing. Tim Shelley spoke with Teri Ross, executive director of Illinois Legal Aid Online, about how expungements have gone so far, and how you can expedite the process if your record is in a county which hasn't cleared its caseload, yet.

Teri Ross: Expungement is effectively destroying the record, obliterating it from any public record. And the advantage of the expungement is that it gives you a cleaner slate to work from.

So expungement and sealing is one way that states try to mitigate the disproportionate effects of the war on drugs on communities of color. So folks with criminal records are at a disadvantage from the get go. And a criminal record can affect whether you are able to get a professional license, like a healthcare license, daycare license, it can affect your ability to get housing, it can affect your ability to get financial aid for your education.

So it's really important to take advantage of this law and this opportunity to expunge and seal and it is, in some cases, a very complicated process, but it's really worth the effort for folks. It allows you to move on. Everyone is more than the worst thing they've ever done, to paraphrase Bryan Stevenson, and we want to give people the opportunity to be able to move on.

Tim Shelley: So it's been about a year now since the the expungements of cannabis convictions has begun. Can you just tell me a little bit about me? How's the process gone to date?

TR: It's going okay. It was certainly boosted along by Governor Pritzker. His recent announcement on New Year's Eve about the Illinois State Police being able to expunge more than half of the eligible records in the state. And he also issued a number of pardons as well, through the Prisoner Review Board.

There's some differences county by county. Right. So in terms of the Illinois State Police, they are able to expunge as a statewide organization, but then they have to follow up with each of the counties and the circuit clerks who hold the court records. Each circuit court is different. Illinois has kind of an under-unified court system. Right? So that just means that the processes aren't consistent across counties.

TS: Tell me a little bit about how that might affect somebody. From a client perspective, what do I need to know, county by county?

TR: You're supposed to be notified by the circuit clerk. One of the problems, of course, is that we're expunging records that are in some cases many years old. And the last address of someone may not be current.

And so you do know if you remember which county you have the record in, it's wise to follow up to make sure if you haven't had any change of address, to make sure that they have your current address so that you can receive the notice.

So the law requires that the automatic expungement be done by 2025. So counties do you have some time to get through their records.

You don't have to wait for the automatic expungement. So if you have an arrest, that had no conviction on it, and you want to go ahead and expunge that record, you can do it. You don't have to wait for the automatic expungement.

The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts is about to release a set of statewide forms for you to be able to do that. A motion to expunge. So for people just to be able to do it on their own if they don't want to wait for their county.

So somebody in Tazewell County, for example, who hasn't gotten the automatic expungement for that record, that's something that the New Leaf program, which my organization is involved in, and so are almost, I think there's 20 organizations around the state who are part of that network. And that really exists to help people get their records expunged.

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Copyright 2021 WCBU. To see more, visit WCBU.

Tim Shelley is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.