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Attorney says expunging cannabis conviction records in Illinois could be complicated for some

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Monday, February 10, 2020  |  Article  |  The Center Square

Crime (28) , Legal System (27) , Marijuana, Medical, Recreational , Recreational Marijuana

When Illinois legalized recreational cannabis this year, lawmakers included a path to having previous criminal records expunged and the governor announced plans to pardon people previously convicted of possession of 30 grams or less.

Brandon Williams, senior attorney for criminal records for Cabrini Green Legal Aid, said the process can be complicated.

Under the existing law, anyone arrested but not convicted for a small amount of cannabis will have their records automatically expunged by the Illinois State Police. They’ll only know that happened, though, if they live at the same address as when they were arrested. Williams said it was best to contact the county where the offense occurred and to update mailing address records.

This policy does not apply to juveniles or to people who were charged with violent crimes or “penalty enhancement” crimes such as selling to minors, Williams said.

Those who were convicted can apply for a pardon and if that is granted, then apply for expungement. Additionally, some people can have their records sealed, an important alternative, Williams said.

“Once the case is expunged, nobody has access to that record,” Williams said. “So if you are just pulled over by a police agency, they won't have access to it. Any employer doing just regular background checks or even fingerprint background checks will no longer have access to that record. So if that person just has those types of cannabis convictions, basically they would have no record at all once everything has taken place.”

Sealed records, on the other hand, are shielded from public view, but law enforcement and employers who do background checks would still have access to the records.

For those who need pardons and to apply for expungement, the process is more complicated, but it need not break the bank. Williams recommended affected people contact a Legal Aid agency, which can handle a case at low, or in some cases, no cost.

Information will be continually updated by the Illinois Sentencing Policy Council. It is available at https://spac.illinois.gov/.