Diversion pleas may surface on criminal background checks

People in Illinois who are accused of certain types of crimes may agree to settle the issue through a diversion plea. In these circumstances, the person pleads guilty and agrees to other circumstances, such as attending a program or paying a fine. As a result, the plea is not considered to be a conviction under state law. However, after a decision by the 7th Circuit court, these pleas may be considered "convictions" and reported in some types of criminal background checks for the purpose of employment.

Background checks are regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. Under the law, arrests more than seven years old may not be reported, but there is no similar time limit on reporting past convictions. In one case involving the law, the federal appeals court interpreted "conviction" as any case disposition including a guilty plea, even if the charges were dismissed under a state diversion plan. The case emerged after a background check company reported a woman's 20-year-old diversion plea on a battery charge to a potential landlord, despite the fact that she had no conviction under Illinois law after successfully completing a brief supervision sentence.

The court ruled that the term "conviction" is defined under federal law, rather than the state in which the person resides. This issue has emerged in previous federal cases, so the appeals court decision is in line with precedent. In this context, people may want to look into forms of diversionary agreements that do not include a guilty plea, especially if there is no action from Congress to change the law.

When people are facing criminal charges, it is important they fully understand the potential consequences of different ways of handling the allegations. A criminal defense attorney may work to provide representation and aim to avoid a conviction.

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