Earlier this year, Virginia passed a new law that will allow people with certain criminal convictions to have their criminal records expunged and sealed. The new law applies to almost all misdemeanor convictions and certain felony convictions, including convictions for serious felony offenses such as child pornography, assault and battery, and voluntary manslaughter.
The new law will go into effect in Virginia on July 1, 2025, but it will likely be available in many counties earlier than that. Once an individual’s conviction is sealed, court records relating to the conviction are no longer accessible by the public, and the records generally will not appear in online databases or background checks. Sealed records will still be accessible in background checks for firearm purchases, when hiring employees for police departments and other government agencies, and under other limited circumstances.
The new law creates a process for courts to automatically seal most misdemeanor convictions, as well as acquittals and dismissals of felony charges. If an individual has a criminal conviction for an offense that is not eligible for automatic sealing, they can still petition the court to seal their records if their offense of conviction is a misdemeanor (except for a DUI or domestic violence) or a Class 5 or Class 6 Felony.
The new law covers a long list of felony and misdemeanor offenses that can be expunged and sealed. Below is a list of some, but not all, of the offenses which are eligible for expungement and sealing:
If you have a criminal conviction for certain misdemeanors or a Class 5 or Class 6 Felony, and are not eligible for automatic sealing, you can file a petition asking the court to seal your records. However, there are several conditions you must meet before you can petition the court.
First, you cannot file a petition to have a felony conviction sealed until 10 years have passed since the conviction or your release from prison, whichever date is later. If you have a misdemeanor conviction, you must wait 7 years. You must also have a clean criminal record during that time period to remain eligible to have your records sealed. Traffic offenses do not disqualify you. Critically, you may still be eligible to have your conviction sealed even if you still owe court fees in connection with your case.
Once a petition has been filed, the judge will consider whether your conviction should be sealed. Among other things, the judge will consider your history and background, including any community service or acts of charity, as well as the nature of your offense and your conduct while you were serving your sentence. In some cases, a petitioner may want to show the judge how having a conviction is making it harder for them to find or keep a job, secure housing, or otherwise be a productive member of society.
In some cases, such as serious sex offenses or violent crimes, you will likely need to provide more information to the court to persuade a judge to seal your conviction. In sex offense cases, for example, expert testimony from a counselor or psychologist can make a huge difference if the expert can testify that you completed all of your required treatment and pose a low risk for re-offending. Expert testimony and other scientific evidence can also show you are a low risk for re-offending in non-sex offense cases.
An individual in Virginia can get up to two convictions sealed only. They must also meet certain conditions before getting a second conviction sealed, such as not having any convictions for an offense that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you file a detailed petition and prepare a strategy that maximizes your chances of success. The experienced attorneys at Pate, Johnson & Church have a track record of success in helping individuals get their convictions sealed, including individuals with convictions for sex offenses and other serious crimes.
Our criminal defense lawyers in Virginia have helped dozens of people successfully resolve serious criminal cases in federal and state courts throughout the Commonwealth. Page Pate, Jess Johnson, and Cary Citronberg are licensed Virginia criminal defense lawyers and have decades of experience in serious criminal cases. Contact us in Alexandria VA or Washington DC to see how someone can qualify to have their felony criminal record sealed, and we will let you know if we can help.