Virginia Criminal Record Expungement


Expungement. The word sounds long, complicated, and technical, but all it really means is to hide, remove, or otherwise erase something. In this case, a person’s criminal record. Virginia expungement allows certain people under specific circumstances to go through a long and detailed application process that, if approved, will let them hide or seal away the record detailing their criminal charges so that no one in the public can see them.


But if the process is so long and detailed, is it really worth it? After all, maybe it’s embarrassing, but a criminal record is still just a piece of paper.


While it may just be a piece of paper, if you’re trying to get your life back to normal in Virginia after being arrested and charged, that paper can become very important. In fact, it can make your life a whole lot more difficult because people in the public tend to see those with a record as high risk individuals, and will often turn you down or refuse to do business with you once they learn about your record.


Now, this might not be such a big deal if we were talking about you not being able to rent movies at the corner store, but typically the way someone will learn about your criminal record is through a background check, and the people and agencies that do these checks most often are potential employers, landlords, banks, and credit card companies. Imagine what life would be like if you couldn’t get a job, didn’t have a place to live, and were constantly being turned down for loans and credit cards.


But those who qualify and get their records expunged no longer have to worry about that because when someone does a background check, their criminal record will show nothing. In fact, having a record expunged even gives you the legal right to state that you were never convicted of a crime in the first place.


What kinds of documentation does Virginia expunge?


There’s all kinds of files and paperwork and information that goes along with arresting, charging, and trying a person, and if you qualify for expungement, you can file to have any and all records having to do with your arrest and the court proceedings be sealed away. These include:


  • police reports
  • investigation reports
  • conviction reports
  • detention facility records
  • correctional facility records
  • court documents.


Whose criminal records are eligible for Virginia expungement?


Because expungement is considered by the state of Virginia to be a privilege rather than a right, only certain people qualify under the law. A good Virginia expungement lawyer will know how to use the law to benefit your particular case, but in general the examples below describe when someone in Virginia may petition for expungement:


  • if a defendant in a criminal case pleads "not guilty" and is acquitted of all charges
  • if the Commonwealth Attorney's office decides not to prosecute the defendant and files a motion to nolle prosequi the charge or charges
  • if the victim of a defendant charged with criminal assault and battery or a misdemeanor notifies the court that there has been satisfaction for the injury, and the court discharges the case pursuant to Virginia Code 19.2-151
  • in cases of identity theft or mistaken identity when a criminal defendant uses another person’s name without their consent, and that innocent person is then given a criminal record
  • if a convicted individual is later granted an Absolute Pardon after it has been determined that their conviction was unjust
  • if a defendant’s case has been dismissed


Along with the above situations, most juvenile records will be sealed automatically after the individual turns 19 or at least 5 years have passed since they committed the crime. There are some exceptions, though. Violations of the vehicle code, including DUI arrests, won’t be expunged until the individual turns 29, and any felonies for violent crimes are not eligible for automatic expungement.


And finally, if an individual who writes a bad check subsequently reimburses the victim fully and the case is dismissed, they would then qualify for expungement. Dismissing the crime could also let the defendant bring a claim of innocence if they were being criminally prosecuted for their actions.


Virginia offenders who are not eligible for expungement


Just as there are specific guidelines for those deemed eligible, there are those clearly defined as ineligible under Virginia laws. People not eligible for expungement in the state include:


  • those who merely believe they were wrongly convicted; only an Absolute Pardon conveys this, not a Simple or Conditional Pardon
  • those who plead guilty to any crime, whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor
  • those who plead nolo contender
  • those who enter an Alford plea


How Virginia expungement works for different types of crimes


Misdemeanors – those acquitted of the charge who don’t have a prior record are eligible for expungement, but it is still possible for the petition to be denied if the Commonwealth Attorney’s office successfully argues against expungement at a hearing.


Felonies – to expunge a felony, clear need of such an expungement must be shown, such as a prospective employer of the individual providing documentation of this need, and under Virginia Code 19.2-392.2-F, the defendant must show that the availability of their record is causing them “a manifest injustice.”


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