What’s next for record sealing in Virginia?

In 2021 Virginia passed a groundbreaking criminal record bill that opened a pathway for thousands to have their records sealed. You can read more about that legislation here. However, 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 are calling on legislators to amend the criminal record sealing bill during the 2022 legislative session to make the record-sealing process free, equitable, far-reaching, and automatic by making the following changes: 

  • Move up the legislation’s enactment date from July 2025 to July 2023
  • Reduce the window of time without additional convictions before someone can seek to have a record sealed 
  • Remove the “lifetime limit” of sealing only two sentencing events per individual 
  • Expand the base of offenses eligible for sealing 
  • Make more offenses eligible for automatic sealing, which is when records are sealed without requiring a petition to the court 
  • Ensure the record sealing process is free for everyone

Learn more about the importance of record-sealing and the policy changes we are advocating for:

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 people of color are disproportionately arrested, charged, and convicted due to racial discrimination in policies and policing. 

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

Expanding record-sealing will help thousands more Virginians! 

We recently 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, but under current law many Virginians would be limited to sealing only 2 of those cases 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. 
    • Under the current law, a person must go 7 years without any new convictions before they can seal a misdemeanor conviction. 
  • Making driving without a license and driving with a suspended license offenses that are eligible for automatic record-sealing 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. 

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

  • 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. 
  • 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. 

Nolef Turns, Inc. Executive Director Sheba Williams shares her story and explains why expungement is important:

We are calling on legislators to amend the criminal record sealing bill during the 2022 legislative session to make the record-sealing process free, equitable, far-reaching, and automatic by making the following changes:

Click the tabs below to explore each of these policy changes further.

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