Being arrested and charged with a crime is an extremely unpleasant experience, but the consequences can also be unpleasant. A written record of the arrest and criminal charge can follow a person for an entire lifetime, adversely affecting job possibilities, credit and other important personal matters. Virginia law permits certain persons to remove their name and other information from the state's police and court records. The process is called "expungement," and it is available to anyone who has been charged with a crime and then either acquitted or has the charges dismissed.
The purpose of expungement is to correct the state's criminal records and eliminate all references to the innocent person. Expungement is obtained by filing of a petition setting forth the relevant facts and requesting "expungement of the police records and the court records relating to the charge." The petition shall be filed in the circuit court where the case was resolved, either by acquittal or dismissal. The petition must include certain relevant data, such as the date of arrest, the name of the arresting agency, the specific criminal charge for which expungement is requests, and information about the petitioner, including name, address and birth date.
The court is required to conduct a hearing to determine if the petition should be granted. The petitioner must demonstrate one of two situations. If the crime was a misdemeanor and the petitioner has no prior criminal record, the petition shall be granted. For felonies, the petitioner must demonstrate and the court must find that the continued existence of the police and court records and potential dissemination of information concerning the arrest will "constitute a manifest injustice to the petitioner." If the petitioner fails to make the required showing, the court will dismiss the petition.
A petition for expungement can also be granted if the court finds that the petitioner is not the person named in the indictment or other criminal charge or if the petitioner has been granted an absolute pardon for the crime in question. Expungement is ordinarily a straightforward procedure, but certain complex cases may require the advice or assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.