It’s tough enough to find a job these days. The last thing you need on your record is that felony shoplifting hit you took for stealing that expensive dress or that domestic violence misunderstanding where you pled to supervision. Crimes such as these may not qualify for expungement, a process where your record is wiped clean. You may not even be eligible for sealing, a process where only law enforcement can see your record.

So what’s left? Your last chance at a clean start may be to apply for a pardon. Luckily, in Illinois, that just got easier.

Under former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, clemency petitions sat gathering dust in state file drawers. One group of petitioners even sued the governor for taking too long to address their cases, in some instances as long as five years without a response. ( Add to that, between 2003 and 2008, Blagojevich granted only 67 pardons, while denying 1,160. (

But Governor Pat Quinn has been actively working through a 2,500 case backlog, and at least one-third of those petitioners have had cause to celebrate. As of September 2, 2011, Governor Quinn pardoned 591 out of 1529 clemency petitioners.

To apply for a pardon, you must complete a Petition for Executive Clemency with the Illinois State Prisoner Review Board, and you may need to request a hearing. In the Petition, you will need to provide supporting documentation and a personal narrative about why you deserve the pardon. An experienced attorney can be invaluable in helping you present your situation in the best possible light.

Once you file the Petition, the Prisoner Review Board checks to see if it is complete. If not, they will notify you that you need to provide more information. Once the petition is completed, it is placed on the Board’s docket. Currently hearings take place twice a year in Chicago and twice a year in Springfield, depending on when you file. You may choose to have a public or nonpublic hearing. After the Board has reviewed your case, it makes a recommendation to the governor, who then decides whether to grant the pardon.

If you have questions about this or another related criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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