Virginia legislature passes bill to seal thousands of criminal records

A police officer walks into the John Marshall Courthouse in downtown Richmond. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia lawmakers sent legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam Friday that for the first time will provide a path to seal past criminal convictions, records lawmakers and advocates say can make it impossible for people to rebuild their lives.

“Millions of Virginians with criminal histories will gain the ability to potentially clean their records and improve their ability to support themselves and their families,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, who carried the Legislation in the Senate. Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, sponsored it in the House.

The legislation would allow the automatic sealing of nine misdemeanor convictions after seven years, provided the person has not been convicted of any other crimes. The offenses include underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing, disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

The bill would allow more serious charges — misdemeanors through Class 5 felonies — to be sealed through a petition-based process that would require a judge to review and sign off on the request. As with the automatic process, the legislation requires the person not have been convicted of any other crimes for seven years in the case of a misdemeanor and 10 years in the case of a felony.

The approach represents a compromise between Democrats in the House and Senate, who have been at odds over how to address the issue since winning control of the General Assembly last year.