A former Bloomington college student who faced decades in prison for dealing drugs on campus will have to wait for the public records of his offenses to be sealed, a judge ruled on Friday.
Tanner Tattini was a freshman at Illinois Wesleyan University in 2015 when he was charged with dealing drugs near a school. The 19-year-old student was arrested after he sold cocaine to an undercover officer near the Illinois State University campus.
Joshua Rinker, defense lawyer for Tanner Tattini, asked a judge to approve a request to seal the public records related to Tattini’s case.
Rinker argued that Tattini, now 24, has done everything required of him to qualify for closing the records to public view. The closure is intended to provide ex-offenders a path to employment and other opportunities frequently blocked when information about convictions is easily available, said Rinker.
“The Legislature carved out exemptions for people exactly like Mr. Tattini,” said Rinker.
The most serious charges against Tattini, who lives in Chicago, carried possible prison terms of six to 30 years. In a plea agreement with the state, he admitted to selling drugs and was sentenced to five years in prison. The former IWU student served his time in the state’s Impact Incarceration, or boot camp program, that typically lasts several months.
According to Rinker, Tattini “is a boot camp success story. He received an awful lot of life skills from boot camp.”
In 2018, Tattini completed an associate degree in computer technology, according to court records. He also has earned a bachelor’s degree, according to his lawyer.
Assistant State’s Attorney Jeff Horve told Associate Judge William Workman the Normal Police Department's vice unit also objected to the records being closed. The public and potential employers of Tattini “have a right to know” his history, said Horve.
“This just happened, quite frankly. It’s barely been five years,” Horve said of the drug case.
The fact that Tattini has started his own computer services business and works with his family’s shoe company shows that he is able to earn a living, said Horve.
Rinker reminded the judge that the favorable plea agreement Tattini received five years ago was offered by the state. The conviction has left Tattini with “the scarlet letter of a felony,” said Rinker, which “is a detriment to entering the work force.”
Before issuing his decision, the judge noted the contrast between Tattini’s petition and a similar request the judge granted immediately before Tattini’s hearing. In that case, a 60-year-old man wanted records related to an armed robbery he committed as a teenager sealed from public view.
The state also objected to that petition.
“It’s only five years ago that he (Tattini) was before the court for these very serious offenses,” Workman said of the younger man’s case.
In response to the ruling, Rinker asked the judge about the provision in the law that encourages those seeking a records seal to further their education during their sentence. Tattini completed his first degree while on parole.
Why, Rinker asked, would ex-offenders bother to obtain college degrees during their sentence, if a short timeframe is viewed as a negative factor by the court?
Workman said he considered the seriousness of the charges and concluded “it’s just a little bit too early on this matter.”
Rinker said Tattini can appeal the ruling or opt to wait awhile before filing a new request.
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