Since we no longer have a war on drugs, let’s start doing things that help defendants get their lives back together. One small thing we can do in Illinois is shorten the expungement waiting period for people sentenced to first-offender probation.
In Illinois, first-offender probation is a possible sentence in some drug cases. With first-offender probation, the defendant does not receive a conviction. With that stated, absent expungement, a defendant will still have a paper trail even if he is not legally convicted of the crime that he is receiving first-offender probation for. He will still have an arrest record in a state police database and a public court file that anyone can review. Furthermore, in most Illinois counties, some of the person’s case information will be publicly available on the Internet through judici.com or some other website. A felony paper trail (regardless of whether the defendant is legally convicted of the crime), among other things, can make it difficult for a person to get a job. When a person’s first-offender probation is expunged, it disappears from the state police database, the court system, and judici.com. So, expunging first-offender probation is a good thing for a defendant who is trying to get his life back together.
Currently, a person is eligible to expunge his first-offender probation five years after successfully completing first-offender probation. Since first-offender probation lasts two years, this means that it will be seven years after a judge enters the sentencing order before a person can begin the expungement process. Why not reduce this wait period from five years to two years (or even less)? Currently, many misdemeanors are expungeable two years after a person is successfully discharged from supervision. The sooner a person can get the stain of his arrest and sentence removed from the public record, the sooner he can move on with his life.