Matt, Sarah, and Federico talk
Juvenile Records Expungement
Matthew Hiltibran, Sarah Sallen Stewart, and Federico Guzman, who,
along with Richard Cozzola, Jennifer Payne, and a team of law students,
run the Juvenile Expungement Help Desk
Making a fresh start just got easier. A new law passed in Illinois gives teeth to the work LAF has been doing in juvenile records expungement for over a decade. The law, as of January 1st, clearly defines expungement and ensures physical destruction of the files in question. It includes automatic expungements for some offenses, expands eligibility for expungement, and shortens waiting periods before expungements are allowed to take place. It also created penalties for the unlawful exposure of juvenile records. Exposing a juvenile record now comes with a stiff fine and potential criminal charges, and the possibility of being sued for damages. This law clarifies the process of juvenile expungements and makes it easier for people who were arrested as children to put their past behind them and begin afresh.
Juvenile arrest records should have always, by law, been sealed and kept confidential. But people have also always been able to find these records, and expunging them from the record is one of the only ways to ensure that they’re gone for good. These arrest records can be a barrier to so many things, like employment, licensure, and housing. Having those records expunged allows people to legally treat these arrests as if they never happened.
This is a niche legal field that very few law firms and legal agencies fill, and there is a real need. In recent years less than .3% of all eligible juvenile records in Illinois are expunged. The Juvenile Expungement Help Desk, staffed by law students and volunteers, and overseen by LAF attorneys Matthew Hiltibran, Sarah Sallen Stewart, and Federico Guzman, and partners at Cabrini Green Legal Aid, is a one stop shop for juvenile records expungement. Located inside the juvenile courthouse building, the Help Desk has access to the clerk’s records and the probation department. Clients who come in can get a printout of their rap sheet, a fingerprint background check, and everything they need to begin the expungement process in one place. It’s also completely free. LAF’s team has tried to make the process as simple and streamlined as possible, and this helpdesk is a major part of that. Matt explains how rewarding it is to see how comparatively little work can have such an outsized impact on a client’s life, allowing them to get a job or a professional license because their record is clean. Sarah knows the importance in this work, because, as she explains, “Juvenile court is supposed to be rehabilitative, but when these records are there, they just keep punishing people.”
Federico sees the hope this process gives people. “The work is straightforward, but there’s so much impact,” he says. “A court employee brought a kid in and helped him get his record cleared. He told me about how he sees kids like him all the time. These kids lose hope that anything can change, that their fate was sealed when they were still kids, and this expungement helps them see it’s not hopeless.”