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Image of the Virginia AG Seal

Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring
Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

 

For media inquiries only, contact:  
Charlotte Gomer, Press Secretary
Phone: (804)786-1022 
Mobile: (804) 512-2552
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

DURING 2ND ANNUAL EXPUNGEMENT WEEK, HERRING CALLS FOR EASIER PROCESS, EXPANDED “CLEAN SLATE” LAWS IN VIRGINIA

~ Virginia is one of the least forgiving states and has some of the most restrictive record expungement laws in the country ~

 

 

RICHMOND (September 27, 2019)—During the second annual National Expungement Week, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is calling for an easier process and expanded opportunities for Virginians to move beyond the stigma of a criminal conviction, especially those convicted of non-violent drug offenses. According to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, Virginia is one of the nation’s least forgiving and most restrictive states when it comes to providing opportunities for individuals to have old convictions and charges expunged from their records. While many other states have some form of a “Clean Slate” law, the Commonwealth appears to be one of just ten states that do not offer any sort of “record closure” for any adult convictions, nor does it offer any automatic expungement for those who are eligible.

 

“Too often a relatively minor charge or conviction, like marijuana or alcohol possession, becomes a permanent stain that limits a Virginian’s job, educational, and housing opportunities. The fact that Virginia saddles our citizens with permanent, practically irrevocable convictions also sends a really negative message that no matter how a person grows, changes, or contributes to their community, they will always be branded a criminal,” said Attorney General Herring. “I think there’s more we can do to ensure that Virginians who have made a change in their life have the opportunity for a clean slate and a real fresh start, especially those who may have committed a nonviolent offense many years ago. Expanding record expungement and simplifying the process would be a simple way to build a more just and fair criminal justice system and to address the disproportionate burden that criminal convictions place on African Americans and people of color.”

 

While Virginia makes expungement of most youth records automatic, there is generally no opportunity for those convicted as adults to have the court close or expunge their record. Expungement is only available to a narrow set of individuals, including those who are tried but found not guilty, people charged with crimes that are later dropped by prosecutors, and those who have received an absolute pardon from the governor. Anyone else is effectively saddled with their conviction for life. Even if a Virginian is eligible for a clean slate, current law requires an eligible person to file a separate action in court and go through a potentially expensive and complicated legal process.

 

Expungement, record closure, and "Clean Slate" laws vary greatly from state to state, but the near total lack of expungement opportunities for adults, let alone any sort of automatic expungement, makes Virginia an outlier nationally. These laws generally include protections that ensure crimes like child abuse or neglect, domestic violence, or sex offenses remain on a person’s record.

 

In recent years Virginia legislators from both parties have introduced bills to enact some sort of expanded record expungement and "Clean Slate" opportunities, but the measures have consistently been defeated in committees.

 

According to the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, record expungement can produce significant economic, social, and public safety benefits for individuals trying to move beyond a conviction and for communities as a whole. The Center found that individuals who had their record expunged saw their employment, education, and licensing opportunities increase along with their income, which has been shown to result in lower rates of recidivism and re-offense, as well as increased tax revenue. Expungement can remove not only the actual stigma that limits opportunities, but also the psychological burden that many reformed offenders report feeling.

 

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