It’s a challenging process to get legal charges removed or sealed in Virginia. But it’s absolutely doable if you meet certain criteria and have a good lawyer. For now, Virginia courts sometimes clear charges when the accused is acquitted or the case is dismissed. And in the next few years, Virginia laws will expand expungement to include some misdemeanor and low-level felony convictions. Whether you’re convicted of a crime or charged and acquitted, it’s crucial to know the ins and outs of the legal system to clear your name. Working with an experienced attorney is the best way to make the process go smoothly.
What Is Expungement?
Expungement is a legal process where a person who has been charged with a crime but not convicted can have police and court records sealed from the public. The documents aren’t destroyed but do not show up on background checks. You can petition for an expungement under the following circumstances:
- If you plead not guilty and are acquitted by a judge or jury.
- If the commonwealth’s attorney decides not to prosecute the case (known as nolle prosequi).
- When your case has been dismissed (deferred dismissals are not eligible).
- If you’re convicted and get an absolute pardon from the governor.
How Do I Get An Expungement?
Petitioning for expungement is complicated and time-consuming. Working with a skilled legal team can expedite and navigate the process. To request an expungement, you or your attorney must file a petition with the circuit court in the jurisdiction where the charges were filed. After you submit fingerprints, and the court transmits your petition to the commonwealth’s attorney. You must also submit a copy of the order for your acquittal or dismissal and the warrant or indictments for the charges you seek to remove. After the commonwealth’s attorney reviews the petition, it moves forward to a hearing. You and your attorney must demonstrate to the court why it should expunge your record. It’s the part of the process where having a seasoned lawyer on your side is most critical.
Can I Clear My Record If I’m Convicted of a Crime?
If you’re an adult, it’s unlikely that you can get a conviction sealed under current Virginia law unless the governor’s office grants a pardon. However, new Virginia laws slated to take effect in 2025 will allow for the expungement of some low-level felony and misdemeanor convictions.
New state laws will allow you to petition for expungement of the least serious felonies (Class 5 or 6 felonies, including some drug and larceny charges) and misdemeanor convictions. The new laws do not allow for expungement of Class 1-4 felonies, vehicular manslaughter, domestic assault, or DUI. Once the laws take effect, you’ll need to meet the following criteria to petition for expungement:
- You have never been convicted of a Class 1 or 2 felony and restrictions on other felony convictions.
- Seven years have passed since the conviction in question.
- You were not convicted of any crime (not counting traffic infractions) during those seven years.
- If your conviction involved drug or alcohol use, you are required to demonstrate rehabilitation.
Virginia’s new expungement laws don’t take effect until 2025. However, if you’ve been convicted of a low-level felony or a misdemeanor, start thinking about the process now. Keep your criminal history clean and talk with your attorney about future plans.
How Do I Obtain A Pardon?
According to Virginia’s Secretary of the Commonwealth, a pardon “provides unique relief to individuals with exceptional circumstances who have demonstrated rehabilitation.” Only an absolute pardon from the governor clears your criminal record. To petition for a pardon, you must have pleaded not guilty during the entire judicial process. You’re not required to have an attorney submit the petition. However, requesting a pardon is a complex and time-consuming process. Having a skilled attorney on your side can expedite the process and boost your chances of success.
Can I Get Charges Removed From My Record On My Own?
Technically, Virginia residents can petition for expungements and pardons directly. But experience shows that hiring a skilled attorney can make the process move more quickly and efficiently and increase chances of success.
First, it’s essential to hire an attorney immediately when you are initially charged. It’s more effective to lay the groundwork for clearing your name at the beginning of the process than after.
A skilled defense attorney can often get charges dismissed or reduced and works to secure a not guilty verdict, putting expungement within reach.
Your attorney can begin the process of getting charges removed from your record immediately if the court dismisses your charges or finds you not guilty. If you’re convicted, your attorney will work on longer-term options for clearing your name, taking into account new Virginia laws.
The Laurel Brigade Law Group is known throughout Northern Virginia for aggressive yet ethical criminal defense. Our team of seasoned attorneys is well-established in the region and well-versed in state laws and processes, including expungement and pardons. We’re ready to help you clear your name and start fresh.