Can I Expunge or Seal My Case?
An expungement is a removal of certain crimes from your criminal records. Many convicted felons find it hard to obtain work, housing, and financial aid because of their past and seek to expunge their record. However, the laws for expungement in Virginia are changing and won’t be fully complete until July 1, 2025.
You can still try to expunge your case under the old rules, but you should understand that the old way may become obsolete soon. Fortunately, the rules for expungement and sealing are much easier under the new laws.
Expungement vs. Sealing
Expungement is the complete removal of a charge from a criminal record, while sealing allows only certain people access to the record. The ones who can access it include law enforcement, the courts, and certain kinds of employers like the police or anything requiring a security clearance.
Prior to the new laws, the only option in Virginia was expungement. Soon, sealing will also be an option. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably in other states, so it can get confusing.
The Old Expungement Rules in Virginia
Under the old rules, Virginia only allowed expungement if you were acquitted or found not guilty of a crime. No conviction could be expunged. Thus, if you were arrested and not charged, you could get the arrest record removed, but not if you lost your court case.
If you qualified, you would have to file a petition to the court to request the expungement. It is not an automatic process like other states. Usually, you would work with an expungement lawyer to help with the process, though you can do it yourself.
Then, you have to take a copy of your petition to a law enforcement agency to get fingerprinted. The police will send your prints and the copy to the Central Criminal Records Exchange for processing. Finally, assuming the petition hasn’t been rejected, you’ll be scheduled for a hearing.
The Expungement Hearing
During the hearing, the court will consider whether you qualify for expungement and whether not expunging your record would qualify as a “manifest injustice”. That is, is continuing to have the charge on your record causing you injustice?
If the court agrees to both questions, you can expunge your case. However, even if they agree that you qualify, they can still deny your request. This is another reason why most people seeking expungement want an attorney to help them.
The New Expungement Rules in Virginia
The new rules allow sealing. A seal doesn’t permanently erase your record like an expungement, but it does let you hide certain things. This is mostly done so that you can get a job or attend a school without worrying about your prior criminal record.
Unlike expungement, a broader range of cases can be sealed, including some convictions. For instance, underage possession of alcohol can be sealed if seven years have passed since the dismissal of the charge and you haven’t been convicted of any other crimes in that period.
Some offenses are also marked as never to be sealed, like DUI and domestic assault. To know whether or not your prior charges or arrests qualify for sealing under the new rules, we recommend speaking with legal counsel.
You May Not Need a Petition for Sealing Your Criminal Record
Under the new sealing rules, some charges and arrest records will automatically fall off your criminal record if you have not committed any further crimes. The new rules around which ones will and which ones won’t are complex.
Avoiding the petition process will make sealing your record much easier, though if you qualify for full expungement, you could go that route. Some of the new charges that qualify for sealing, such as low-level felonies, will still require a petition.