What is an expungement and who can qualify?

What is an expungement? 

An expungement is when a criminal conviction is either sealed, so no one may access it, or it is destroyed. Expungements differ from a legal “pardon” in that expungements are not forgiveness for a crime, rather the record is no longer accessible through criminal record/public record inquiries.

In Virginia, a new record relief bill was passed in 2021 that will likely take effect in the summer of 2025. The new bill has put in place multiple new processes and changes for expungements. 

  1. There will be an automatic system that will seal misdemeanor cases that do not get convicted, as well as some convictions. 
  2. The prosecuting attorney will have the choice to give consent for defendants that receive felony acquittals or a dismissal to have their case contemporaneously sealed – which means at the same time or shortly after the court decision. 
  3. Rules will be in place for private companies that purchase and distribute criminal records to perform routine maintenance and delete sealed records. There will also be a private right of action for individuals against companies that do not comply. 
  4. Many options will be available for misdemeanor and low level felony defendants who received deferred dismissals or convictions. They will be able to request an expungement by court petition, and outstanding court debt will not affect qualifications. 
  5. During the expungement petition process an individual will qualify for a court-appointed attorney.

Currently, the law requires an individual to file a lawsuit in the circuit court and a judge find that the record existing as-is constitutes manifest injustice to qualify for an expungement. Until the new bill is in place, the civil suit will be required to create an argument for expungement in the state of Virginia. 

Attorneys at the Steidle & Gordon Attorneys at Law know the struggle a criminal record can inflict on an individual’s life – give our office a call today to explore your options and see if an expungement proceeding is the right choice for your past case.