Everyone makes mistakes. But sometimes mistakes can have far-reaching consequences you might never predict.

Old criminal convictions, charges and arrests can stay on your record for years, making it difficult to land a job, rent property or even get a bank loan. Sometimes even a criminal charge can affect you in ways you might not think of, even if there was no conviction. Even if an old charge or conviction is affecting your life, there are ways to move forward.

What is expungement and sealing?

Expungement is the removal of past charges, arrests and court supervisions from your record. After an expungement, you will not need to disclose the conviction on a job application, and it will no longer show up on a general background check.

Another process, called sealing, hides your record from most of the public. Courts and law enforcement agencies can still see sealed charges or convictions on your record. Some employers are required by law to do background checks. They will still see felony conviction as well. However, sealing hides misdemeanor charges and convictions except if the employer is a law enforcement agency.

Can I have my records expunged or sealed?

Not all charges and convictions are eligible for expungement or sealing in Illinois. Misdemeanors and felonies convictions are generally pungable if reversed or vacated. Court supervision for many misdemeanors – including domestic battery, sexual abuse with someone 18 or older, driving without insurance and more – can be expunged five years after the supervision is successfully completed. Court supervision for lesser misdemeanors is expungable after two years.

Non-expungable convictions and court supervisions include minor traffic offenses, reckless driving, driving under the influence and sexual offenses against a minor.

All charges and arrests that did not lead to a conviction are sealable at any time. Most misdemeanor and felony convictions are sealable three years after your sentence is complete.

Charges, arrests and sentences that aren’t sealable include driving under the influence, animal offenses, sex crimes and domestic battery.

How do I get my records expunged or sealed?

If you meet the criteria for an expungement or having your records sealed, you must fill out a series of forms and then appear before a judge. The process is complicated and intricate, so it’s wise to seek legal advice to assist in the process. The rest of your life does not have to be determined by your past mistakes.