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CRIMINAL LEGAL SYSTEM:

EXPUNGEMENT

Criminal records deny people access to safe and stable housing, dependable employment, and mobility granted by an education. In turn, people are then left without resources to feed themselves and support their families. People can bear this stigma and lack of stability for decades, even for nonviolent and minor misdemeanors. The stigma is born unequally across populations in the commonwealth, as Black, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Latine Virginians are disproportionately arrested, charged, and convicted due to racial discrimination in policing and prosecution as well as social and economic inequalities. 

The systemic racism and classism of the criminal legal system mean that the people most affected by criminal records are racially marginalized and/or low-income, which makes expungement a racial and economic justice issue. 

We are working to lessen the burden for Virginians with criminal records by fighting for the expansion of expungement and record-sealing laws and providing people with legal assistance in getting their records sealed. 

Learn more about the impact of record-sealing by watching this short video featuring the story of Whitmore Merrick: 

In 2021, the Virginia General Assembly passed a groundbreaking new law that will greatly expand eligibility for record sealing. 

Non-convictions, many misdemeanor convictions, and some felony convictions will be eligible for sealing, and some of these records will be automatically sealed instead of the typical court process. Unfortunately, this law does not take effect until July 1, 2025. Because LAJC recognizes people directly impacted by criminal records need help now, we have advocated to move up the effective date of the new law. 

While the criminal record-sealing bill passed in 2021 established an important foundation for reform, it does not reach far enough or take effect fast enough. We have been advocating for changes to the law to make the record-sealing process free, equitable, far-reaching and automatic. 

Here is some data we have collected on how expanding record sealing would help Virginians: 

How many Virginians would benefit from different changes

In 2022 we worked with Code for Charlottesville to crunch the numbers and estimate how many peoples’ lives could be changed by making certain modifications to expand the 2021 record-sealing legislation. Here’s what we found:  

  • Eliminating the lifetime limit on record-sealing would expand current eligibility of record-sealing by 415,363 cases.  
  • Virginians with a criminal record have an average of 3 cases (the new law limits record sealing to only 2 cases for each person in their lifetime).  
  • Reducing the wait time for record-sealing from 7 years to 5 years would expand current eligibility for record-sealing by 41,756 cases.  
  • If driving without a license and driving with a suspended license charges were made eligible for automatic record-sealing, it would allow for automatic sealing of over a million additional cases.  
  • From 2009 to 2020, Virginians received 655,759 convictions for driving with a suspended license and 425,519 convictions for driving without a license. 
  • Under the record sealing law passed in 2021, individuals with these convictions must petition a court to seal these convictions. Making these convictions eligible for automatic sealing will expand access to the benefits of not having these convictions on a record. 
  • Making more offenses eligible for automatic sealing will also save the court system the time, cost, and burden of processing petitions to seal those cases. 

Methodology: These data were determined by taking a fully random sample of 100,000 people from the ~3 million individuals with at least one criminal record in Virginia general district courts and circuit courts from 2009-2020 and all cases associated with each individual for a sample size of 293,598. Code for Charlottesville extrapolated from the sample to generate estimates of the number of cases in the whole population in each category. To account for sampling variation, each population estimate is presented along with a 95% confidence interval. Data with intervals available at bit.ly/recordsealingdata

Polling data on Virginians’ attitudes towards record-sealing

In 2021 we conducted a poll with Data for Progress to see how Virginia voters feel about expungement and record-sealing. Here are some of the results: 

  • Virginia voters favor an expungement eligibility waiting period of three or fewer years 
  • Most survey respondents (53%) said that a person should wait 3 or fewer years before their conviction is eligible for expungement.  
  • For misdemeanor convictions specifically, a strong majority (80%) support allowing expungement eligibility after 3 years without committing another offense. 
  • Virginia voters are aware of the painful collateral consequences of a criminal record 
  • More than a third of likely Virginia voters are personally acquainted with someone who has a criminal record. This is true among Democrats and Republicans alike.  
  • Half of all participants surveyed know someone who has been denied employment because of a criminal record. For a denial of housing, that number was 32%, and for a denial of education, that number was 22%. These denials leave affected people scrambling to find stability in their lives. 

The polling was conducted by Data for Progress. One survey of 595 likely voters in Virginia took place from September 3 to 13, 2021, and the other survey of 564 likely voters in Virginia took place from August 12 to 18, 2021. Both surveys used web panel respondents, and the samples were weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, and voting history. Both surveys were conducted in English. The margin of error for both surveys was ±4 percentage points. 

Are you interested in learning more about the Expungement of criminal or traffic charges, or do you want us to help you remove eligible charges from your record? Visit our Information sessions and Expungement clinics:

  • July:
  • August:
    • Information Session in Henrico (Date TBA)
  • September:
    • Expungement Clinic in Henrico (Date TBA)
  • October:
    • Expungement Clinic Richmond (Date TBA)
  • November:
    • Expungement Clinic Charlottesville (Date TBA)
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