Having a criminal record can make it difficult to do many things most people take for granted, from getting a job or renting an apartment to getting a gun permit. In some cases, you may be able to have your record sealed so that the public may no longer see it. Virginia's laws on this procedure are very restrictive, but if you qualify, it can make your life much easier.
Defining Expungement and Record Sealing
At one time, these two terms referred to slightly different procedures that had similar results for you. Expungement would physically destroy the records, rendering them completely inaccessible. Sealing would block them from access by members of the public, such as landlords doing background checks. But they still existed and could sometimes be accessed by law enforcement agencies for specific purposes.
Today, this distinction has blurred, and both terms are often used to refer to sealing records without destroying them.
According to Virginia statute, you may petition to have your records expunged in limited cases, including the following:
- You were acquitted of the crime.
- The charges were dismissed.
- Someone else committed the crime using your name.
In most cases, you cannot get a conviction expunged. If your conviction was later overturned, you may petition for expungement if you first receive an absolute pardon.
The state automatically expunges juvenile records (except motor vehicle violations or felony convictions) annually. Your records are eligible at the next scheduled date after your 19th birthday, as long as at least five years have passed since your last hearing. Motor vehicle violations are expunged after you turn 29.
Filing and Hearing Requirements
To request expungement of eligible records, you must file a petition with the court in the city or county where you case was handled. You will need copies of the petition for additional offices:
- The attorney for the Commonwealth of the same city or county
- The law enforcement agency where you must get a full set of your fingerprints taken
The attorney has the option to object to your petition. Your fingerprints are used to get a copy of your criminal history for the court.
Once the court has all the information it needs, it will hold a hearing to determine if keeping the records creates a "manifest injustice" to you. If yes, it will grant your request.
The standard is different for a single misdemeanor when you have no other record. In this case, you are entitled to expungement unless there is a good reason to deny it.
Much like expungement, pardons are not easy to get in Virginia. However, if you believe you have been wrongly convicted or can show you have been a good citizen since your conviction, you may be able to get one of the state's several types of pardons:
- A simple pardon officially forgives your crime and can make it easier to qualify for a job, among other things.
- An absolute pardon is official recognition of your innocence.
- A conditional pardon may be granted to people still in prison and can allow for early release.
Of these, only the absolute pardon qualifies you to petition for expungement. However, even if you cannot qualify for this, a simple pardon may still be worth pursuing to help you get on with your life.
Consulting with an Attorney
This brief overview of Virginia laws is not legal advice and may not address your circumstances. For specific questions, and to ensure you are following the most recent version of state law, consider speaking with an attorney.