People v. Wells
Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division
January 16, 1998
Holding: When determining whether a record can be expunged under 20 ILCS 2630/5, a court must take into consideration certain factors and find that with all things considered the petitioner’s interest in being free from the records outweighs the state’s interest in retaining them.
Why This Case is Important: A petitioner seeking expungement relief under 20 ILCS 2630/5 must first meet the threshold matter of proving he has been acquitted or released without being convicted; once this threshold is met, the petitioner is eligible to have his records expunged. The court in this case verified that a petitioner who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity also meets this threshold requirement. As such, a petitioner who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity may also have his records expunged.
However, the court in this case determined that before a petitioner may expunge his criminal records, the court must apply a balancing test in order to determine whether relief should be granted. This arises from the discretionary nature of the statute. A court will balance the following factors in determining whether relief shall be granted: (1) the strength of the state’s case against the petitioner, (2) the state’s reasons for wishing to retain the records, (3) the petitioner’s age, criminal record, and employment history, (4) the time elapsed from the arrest, and (5) the adverse consequences that the petitioner will endure if the expungement is denied. On balance, the factors must show that the petitioner’s interest in being free from the records outweighs the state’s interest in retaining them.
Facts of This Case: The petitioner in this case was charged with murder and attempted murder. During trial, the petitioner was found not guilty by reason of insanity. In 1990, the petitioner was released from outpatient treatment, and he subsequently petitioned to expunge the records of his arrest. The trial court denied that petition, and the petitioner appealed.
The Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed the trial court’s decision to deny the petitioner’s request. The court of appeals first determined that the petitioner was eligible to have his records expunged, because he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. However, the court of appeals held that a court should take into consideration the factors mentioned above before expunging petitioner’s records. The petitioner in this case presented evidence that he has since been a law-abiding citizen, was now 60 years old and had received his master’s degree. Although the evidence was sufficient, the court of appeals stated that the petitioner would have been found guilty of the charges of murder and attempted murder, but for the insanity defense. The appeals court therefore concluded that the state’s interest in maintaining the petitioner’s records outweighed the defendant’s interest of expungement. As a result, the court of appeals affirmed the order denying the petitioner’s request.
Key Language: The following factors should be adopted when evaluating a petition to expunge: the strength of the state’s case against the petitioner, the state’s reasons for wishing to retain the recurs, the petitioner’s age, criminal record, and employment history, the time elapsed from the arrest, and the adverse consequences that the petitioner will endure if the expungement is denied. The list of factors set forth above is not exhaustive, and each petition to expunge should be considered on an individual basis.
Expert Advise: “The test set for by the court in this case is factor driven. It is important for a petitioner to present strong evidence in order to show that the interest of expungement outweighs the state’s interest in retaining the records. Note that although the court denied relief in this case, it was because of the extreme nature of the petitioner’s charges, and that but for his insanity defense, he would have been found guilty of murder.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.
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