What Happens to Sealed Records After 10 Years in Illinois?

What Happens to Sealed Records After 10 Years in Illinois?Navigating the complexities of sealed records, especially understanding what happens after 10 years, can be a daunting task. This guide aims to provide clarity and insight into the process, specifically tailored for individuals in Illinois who may have a sealed record and are curious about the implications as time progresses.

If you’re an Illinois resident with a record that is sealed, you might be wondering about the long-term implications and what happens as time goes on, particularly after a decade. This guide is designed to explain the concept of sealing and provide you with a clear understanding of what to expect after 10 years.

What is sealing?

To fully grasp the future of sealed records, we first need to define what they are and what they mean for individuals who have them:

  • Sealed Records Defined: In the legal realm, when we talk about sealed records, we’re referring to criminal or civil records that a court has hidden from the public eye. This is a legal measure to protect the privacy of individuals involved.
  • Existence of Sealed Records: It’s crucial to understand that sealed records are not deleted or destroyed. They remain in existence but are kept out of public access, which means they are not wiped clean like expunged records.

The Long-Term Outlook: Sealed Records After 10 Years

Now, let’s address the heart of the matter: what happens to sealed records after 10 years in Illinois?

  • No Automatic Changes: Sealed records do not automatically change status after 10 years—or any amount of time, for that matter. The sealing of records is not time-dependent but rather governed by state laws and court orders.
  • Continued Sealing: Unless action is taken to unseal or expunge a record, it remains sealed indefinitely. This means that even after 10 years, the record will stay sealed and out of public view unless a court order dictates otherwise.
  • Potential for Change: If you wish to alter the status of your sealed record, such as seeking expungement, you would need to file a petition in court. This process is subject to strict eligibility criteria and is not guaranteed.

Key Points to Remember About Sealed Records in Illinois

  • Sealing is Not Expungement: Sealing a record is not the same as expunging it. Expungement is the process of erasing a record as if the event never occurred, while sealing simply restricts public access.
  • Eligibility for Sealing: Not all records can be sealed. Illinois law specifies which types of records are eligible for sealing and which are not, such as DUIs and certain sex offenses.
  • Applying for Sealing: The timeline for applying to seal records varies. For example, you can apply to seal arrest records immediately if no charges were filed, but for eligible misdemeanor or felony convictions, you must wait three years after completing your sentence. There are also costs associated with applying to keep in mind. 

The 10-Year Mark: Understanding Changes to Sealed Records

When it comes to sealed records, many individuals are particularly curious about what changes might occur after a decade. The notion that sealed records might automatically unseal after 10 years is a common misconception. Here’s a more detailed look at what actually happens and the steps involved if changes to the record’s status are desired.

No Automatic Unsealing After 10 Years

  • Persistent Sealing: Sealed records in Illinois, and generally in many jurisdictions, do not have an automatic “expiration date.” The belief that a sealed record will automatically open up to the public after 10 years is incorrect. Instead, these records remain sealed indefinitely unless specific legal actions are taken to change their status.
  • Governing Laws and Orders: The duration for which a record remains sealed is governed by state laws and the specific court orders that initially sealed the record. These laws and orders do not typically specify a time limit after which the record becomes unsealed.

Petitioning for Changes to Sealed Records

  • Active Steps Required: For an individual who wishes to change the status of their sealed record—whether to have it expunged or otherwise altered—they must take proactive steps. This usually involves filing a petition in court.
  • Court Process: Petitioning the court is formal and requires adherence to specific procedures. It often involves submitting detailed paperwork, possibly attending a hearing, and presenting a case for changing the record’s status.

Eligibility Criteria for Sealing or Expungement

Understanding the eligibility criteria for sealing or expungement is crucial for anyone considering this path:

  • Varied Based on Offense: Not all offenses are eligible for sealing or expungement. The nature of the offense plays a significant role in determining eligibility. For example, violent crimes or certain types of offenses may be excluded from sealing or expungement options.
  • Completion of Sentencing: Another key factor is whether the individual has fully completed their sentencing, including any probation or parole periods. Eligibility often requires that all terms of the sentence have been fully satisfied.
  • Other Factors: Additional factors that can influence eligibility include the individual’s overall criminal record, the amount of time that has passed since the offense or completion of the sentence, and specific state laws that may outline further criteria.

Key Points to Remember

  • No Set Timeframe: The idea that sealed records have a set timeframe after which they automatically change status is a myth. Instead, any change requires a legal process.
  • Proactive Action Needed: Individuals interested in changing the status of their sealed record must be proactive and may need to navigate complex legal procedures.
  • Consult Legal Advice: Given the complexities and variations in law, consulting with a legal professional who specializes in criminal records can provide personalized guidance and increase the chances of a successful outcome.

Navigating Sealed Records After 10 Years: Key Considerations and Steps

Understanding the implications of sealed records, especially after 10 years, is crucial for individuals looking to navigate their future, particularly in terms of employment opportunities and professional licensing. There are certain circumstances where a sealed record might be used against you so be sure to keep that in mind. Here’s an in-depth look at the key considerations and proactive steps you can take.

Employment and Background Checks: Where More Thorough Checks Are Common

While sealed records are generally inaccessible to most employers, certain industries and positions require more in-depth background checks where sealed information might be scrutinized:

  • Legal Industry: Positions in the legal field, including lawyers and paralegals, often require a clean record. Due to the sensitive nature of legal work, employers may conduct thorough background checks.
  • Finance Sector: Jobs in banking, investment, and any position requiring the handling of financial transactions or sensitive financial information may involve deeper background checks. Employers in this sector are particularly cautious about integrity and trustworthiness.
  • Medical Field: Roles in healthcare, especially those involving patient care, may require comprehensive background checks. This includes doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers, where trust and safety are paramount.
  • Security Positions: Jobs in security, law enforcement, and related fields not only require thorough background checks but also often have strict criteria regarding criminal records.
  • Education Sector: Teachers, administrators, and other staff members in schools and educational institutions are typically subject to detailed background checks to ensure the safety of students.

Legal and Professional Licenses: The Impact of Sealed Records

For individuals seeking professional licenses, the presence of a sealed record can be a significant consideration:

  • Licensing Boards Review: Many professional licensing boards have the authority to conduct comprehensive reviews, which may include accessing sealed records. This is part of their due diligence to ensure the suitability of candidates for licensure.
  • Potential for Disclosure: Depending on the profession and the state, applicants may be required to disclose the existence of sealed records as part of the licensing process.

Proactive Steps to Take After 10 Years With a Sealed Record

Reaching the 10-year mark with a sealed record is an opportunity to review your situation and consider any necessary actions:

  • Review Your Record: Familiarize yourself with the details of your sealed record, including the specific offense, the date it was sealed, and any relevant legal provisions.
  • Consult a Legal Professional: Engage with an attorney who specializes in criminal records. They can offer expert advice on the possibility of expunging your record or taking other protective measures.
  • Stay Informed: Laws and regulations regarding sealed records can evolve. Keeping abreast of any legislative changes in Illinois or your specific state is essential for managing your sealed record effectively.


Sealed records after 10 years remain a complex issue, governed by specific legal criteria rather than a predetermined timeframe. Individuals with sealed records should seek professional legal advice to explore their options and understand the long-term implications of their sealed record. Remember, while a sealed record offers a degree of privacy, it’s crucial to be aware of the limitations and conditions under which these records can be accessed or altered.

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and is provided as is without any guarantee of accuracy. If you need a professional legal opinion, click here to send in your legal request.

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