Getting old Chicago arrest records?

I need to get a decades-old Chicago arrest record (for work, not my own – I was 9 years old when the arrest in question took place). So far, I am being told by the Chicago Police Department that the only way to get an arrest record that isn’t one’s own is to be an attorney representing the arrested person, and to have a subpoena.

The attorney part isn’t a problem – I work for a law firm – but the subpoena and the timing are; I need to have the records in hand in the next few days, preferably in time for my firm to make some analysis of its contents and then act on this analysis. Without going into identifying details, the potential client says the arrest record isn’t his (supposedly it’s a case of mistaken identity), but because of this mess, he’s stuck outside the U.S. and obviously can’t go in person to try to prove a negative.

So does anyone have the inside scoop on how I can get the arrest record? I’m getting slightly different answers (and different contact names/phone numbers) from everyone I talk to in the police department. I would never try to get confidential information without the authorization of the person whose record it is (or isn’t, as the case may be), but I’ve never heard of such a stringent procedure for allowing even a person’s attorney to access an arrest history. But then I don’t normally deal with this sort of thing. Any tips on dealing with this unique bureaucratic hell would be greatly appreciated.

Eva Luna, (Mostly Employment-Based) Immigration Paralegal

Why can’t you just draft up a subpoena duces tecum? The layers I worked for always had a stack of signed subpoenas lying around–all you had to do was fill it out and either fax it or serve it in person. Now, the speed of your reply depends on the agency you’re dealing with. I’ve had folks respond to a document subpoena the same day. Others have taken a week.

Still needs to be a pending lawsuit.

Eve, are you sure the requirement isn’t a subpoena or a request from an attorney representing the subject of the report?

I assumed there was some sort of lawsuit involved, but rereading the OP, and seeing the words “potential client,” I guess that’s not the case, after all.

At any rate, if you work for a law firm, Eva, shouldn’t the attorneys know how to deal with this? If it’s crucial, the law office I used to work for dealt with both federal and state criminal defense–I could ask them what the procedure is.

It does seem rather odd to me that an attorney would need a subpoena to request the arrest record of his or her client.

Anyhow, can you not find some of the information you need by requesting the court docket at the Daley Center? They’d have to pull it from the warehouse, if it’s that old, but I think it would have something useful, although I don’t know what exactly you’re looking for.

Well, this firm deals with immigration, not typically with criminal law (except as it impacts immigration), so I really have never had to get hold of a record like this. (Typically if U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is alleging a conviction, they include all the particulars of the conviction on whatever documentation they provide, which of course makes it much easier to find the record.) Unless there is fraud involved, typically an arrest in itself will not affect a person’s immigration status, but why I can’t figure out is why this arrest never popped up in the multiple other situations where this person has had dealings with USCIS, during each one of which an FBI background check should have been run.

Of course, now the potential client has changed his story a bit (isn’t this fun?) and instead of saying the arrest record doesn’t relate to him, now he’s saying it was a long time ago, he was very young and didn’t speak English at the time, and the case was thrown out. Sigh…nothing like full disclosure upfront.

In the meantime, since I posted the OP, I touched base with my boss again, and his take on it is that really the only thing that should be relevant is a conviction, not an arrest, so yes, I should be dealing with Cook County Circuit Court. And yes, a court record should be public, but the problem is the USCIS response deadline, which may not allow enough time to get documents from the archives. And every person I speak to at Circuit Court gives me a different story about where the records are and how to get them quickly, or whether they even exist anymore (the first person told me all records are destroyed after 10 years, which sounds like BS to me). It’s enough to make me want to tear my hair out, and given my usual line of work, that’s saying something.

So yes, any tips on getting records quickly would be greatly appreciated.

Here’s the information on the court archives. Some cases do get destroyed after 10 years. For example:

Criminal felony cases are not destroyed.

I don’t remember there being any way to expedite the process. You can search for the case number in the computers at the Daley Center on, IIRC, the 10th floor. I don’t know exactly how far those go back, though–they certainly have cases from the early 90s, at least. The website above seems to indicate they go through the 80s.

It would have been a felony case from the 70s. The thing that irks me is that they keep telling me on the phone that I’m SOL - maybe I should just go there in person. Of course, I have no case number or any info other than arrest date, charge (in a general sort of way), and name/birthdate/SS# of arrestee. I have no idea of when the actual court hearing was.

Sigh…why did I go into this line of work again? Thanks for the info, anyway.

Well, I fired off an email to the criminal attorneys I worked for, so we’ll see if I come up with anything new.

Yeah, I never had to dig for anything that old, and dealing with the folks at the Daley Center is a challenge in itself, so good luck. The one very helpful and enthusiastic employee I used to love dealing with there has long since been moved up to a better paying position.

Anyhow, have you called the archives division itself, and not just the clerk’s office? They should be better able to tell you whether you’re really SOL or not. The archive holdings page clearly states that those court proceedings should be available:

You’d obviously need to check the index first and then pull the record. The files are stored off-site so, as the site says, allow 2-10 working days. From my experience, they usually pull records in 3-5 working days.

Thanks! I have a couple of other rush things to do right now, and have to leave a bit early today for Rosh Hashanah, but you probably just saved me a bunch of time poking around. Will call them in a bit.

They told me specifically that I would need a subpoena, even after I said our firm was repressenting the person and could get any necessary written releases. They insisted a subpoena was necessary. Of course, they could just be jerks, or lying, or wrong, or all of the above.

Criminal defense attorney responds and says the requirement for a subpoena sounds right. A person can request their rap sheet without a subpoena, but arrest reports “may require a subpoena,” according to her.

Heck, at this point I’d settle for pretty much anything. What info does an arrest record typically include that a rap sheet doesn’t? I’m really not familiar with the lingo.

Also, if it’s an immigration matter, can’t you subpoena them in regards to the immigration case? Or is there no case at hand? I’m still a little confused on that part.

Well, without going into too many details, potential client is stuck outside the U.S. pending obtaining proof that he was not convicted of the crime to which the arrest record relates. Why this didn’t come up in the intervening 30+ years, during which he had multiple completely uneventful contacts with USCIS, each of which would have required an FBI background check, I have no freaking idea.

I suppose there must be some way to create a situation in which the record could be subpoenaed, but it sounds like it might be faster/easier/cheaper to just get the relevant court record, which ought to exonerate him (at least if he’s telling the truth).

If all you need to do is prove the outcome of the case (that charges were dropped or that he was found not guilty or whatever), you could ask for a certified disposition. I think it costs $9. I don’t know how it works for cases that far back, but for felonies it’s available at the criminal courts building on 26th and California (ph 773.869.3152).

From what I understand, this is what’s usually pulled for immigration cases, so I must be misunderstanding what key piece of info you need, or you must need something more, since I assume immigration attorneys would be aware of that.

A rap sheet is a criminal record, as opposed to an arrest report. It’s a record of arrests and convictions. Read here for more info.

I am now off to the Daley Center to see if I can get anywhere with the indexes…one attorney here never deals with criminal issues at all, and the other one does, but usually has his clients bring their own records.

Never dull around here! Wish me luck.

Good luck. But if all you need is the results of the proceedings, don’t go to the Daley Center. Call up 26th and California and ask what’s necessary to get a certified disposition. That’s the easiest way to prove a case was dismissed, if that’s indeed what you need to do. Read this link relevant to immigration cases in Illinois. (WARNING: Microsoft Word .doc file)

:: bump ::

Just came back from the Daley Center for the second time in 24 hours – it’s been very educational.

The short version – the people who helped me at Cook County Circuit Court were actually very nice and genuinely wanted to help me solve the problem. Apparently they are really annoyed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, because they are getting a TON of extra work lately because of all the additional layers of background checks for immigration purposes since 9/11, and they believe that if a criminal record is expunged, it really shouldn’t exist anymore (currently, a criminal record that is expunged is not erased for immigration purposes – only a gubernatorial pardon will accomplish that). So the fact that an arrest in itself, without even a conviction, is causing so much trouble for someone going on 40 years after the fact offended their sensibilities.

First I went to the 11th floor to the Archives Room, and was assisted in printing the entire index from the year in question for the first letter of the prospective client’s last name. (This was when I discovered that I would never hack it as a professional genealogist, because using microfilm readers apparently makes me want to throw up. It was almost like I was motion sick.) He does not appear on the index, which I am told means that there was no conviction. (Unfortunately, nobody was able to provide me with a written statement of their records retention policies, which would have been very helpful in this instance. They did, however, give me an official stamped letter, right there on the spot, that there was no record in the index for this person in the year in question.)

Then I went to room 1006, where the lady who helped me even did me a favor and called the Chicago Police Department for me, and confirmed that they don’t even retain rap sheet records going that far back. I asked her what I could do to get confirmation that the case was dismissed, and she said that there won’t be records at 26th & Cal if the CPD doesn’t even have a rap sheet.

So apparently the only thing I can do is apply for a non-fingerprint based records search from the Illinois State Police (I had to do this once before for a naturalization client whose fingerprints the FBI, after 3 attempts, classified as “unreadable”), because they should have all records for the entire State of Illinois. The trouble is that it typically takes longer to get the search results than I actually have, so if we run out of time, I will need to just send whatever I have by then – the no-record letter from Circuit Court, the microfilm printouts of the index, and an explanatory letter. Any other thoughts would be appreciated.

In my experience going to the 1968 Democratic National Convention is a good way to do it.

The only other thing I could think of is misspellings of the name in the index, a client using an alias he’s not telling you about, or the records were simply lost. Misspellings are frequent in court records. When I used to search for all known convictions for a suspect I knew had several arrests, I’d search by his name first, and then his fingerprint ID number. Quite frequently, this would lead to additional hits on misspellings of his name, arrests made under a different name, etc.

In other words, be creative, and good luck. Glad to hear the Daley Center was helpful.