Expungement clinic to be held: Vice mayor, other officials partner to clear eligible arrest records

Expungement clinic to be held: Vice mayor, other officials partner to clear eligible arrest records

By Brianne McConnell | bmcconnell@alextimes.com

Streamlining the process for citizens looking for a second chance is just one of the goals for the city’s first sponsored expungement clinic, which will be held Saturday at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center starting at 10 a.m. and will run for several hours.

The office of Vice Mayor Amy Jackson is partnering with the Commonwealth’s Attorney, The Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Alexandria Sheriff’s Department and the Alexandria Bar Association to provide eligible citizens an opportunity to start the process of having criminal charges removed from their record.

The ability to expunge entries from a criminal record remains limited in Virginia. Time and expense can make getting an expunge- ment difficult, too. The city plans to make this process easier for eligible applicants at Saturday’s event.

“This is a look into what may be holding people back and they don’t even know. And it should be taken advantage of,” Jackson said.

Only charges within the City of Alexandria will be eligible to be expunged at the clinic. Individuals planning to attend will need to bring a certified copy of their charge and disposition as well a photo ID.

According to the Virginia Poverty Law Center expungement is a process where an individual who has been arrested and charged with a crime, but was not convicted, can have police and court records of the arrest and charges sealed from public view. This doesn’t mean that the records are destroyed. The records are taken away from public view and can only be seen if the court gives them to a law enforcement officer, for example.

Expungement of convictions of any type, whether misdemeanor or felony, are not eligible in Virginia. The ability to expunge entries from a criminal record in Virginia is limited to offenses which were eventually dismissed – and only some of those qualify.

In Virginia, a person may have charges expunged if one of the following applies: they were found not guilty of the charge, the charge or charges were dismissed, the individual was given an absolute pardon or if the person’s identity was used incorrectly. Not all criminal charges are eligible.

“If you were convicted, it doesn’t matter what kind of offense you were convicted of, or how long ago it was, under current Virginia law it remains on your record,” Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Porter said.

Local organizations and businesses including the West End Business Association, the League of Women Voters, Port City Brewing Company and Hilton Mark Center are sponsoring the event. Sean Sherlock, a partner at King, Campbell, Poretz and Mitchell – one of the law firms also sponsoring the event – said another determining factor for expungement depends on if the charge is for a felony or misdemeanor offense.

“If it is a misdemeanor and it’s eligible for expungement and they have no prior criminal record, it’s what’s called an expungement by right and the court has to grant the expungement,” Sherlock said.

Officials say inaccuracies on criminal records or past charges sometimes make it difficult for someone to get a job, a home or a loan.

“I’ve definitely had people tell me prior arrests have caused them problems with employment and even housing,” Porter said.

For an individual with a felony charge, or a misdemeanor charge and a prior criminal record, the court must determine a manifest injustice. This would mean that the court has determined that the continued existence of the charge will negatively impact the individual’s life.

“Expungements exist to make sure innocent people aren’t impacted by the mere fact of having a charge on their record and of course the standard of proof to be charged with a crime is relatively low – probable cause – and much lower than it is to convict a person, which is beyond a reasonable doubt,” Sherlock said.

Sherlock added that the current process to get charges removed can be confusing and time consuming. A person seeking expungement is required to file paperwork with the court, obtain a complete set of fingerprints from a law enforcement agency, pay nearly $100 in filing fees and if necessary, schedule a court hearing.

On Saturday, all the needed agencies to help make expungement possible will be in one place. Trained defense attorneys will be working pro bono to determine if charges are eligible and to answer questions. Clerks from the Circuit Court of Alexandria will be on hand to complete court paperwork. Representatives from the sheriff’s office will work to take and process fingerprints for eligible individuals who attend the clinic.

The nearly $100 court filing fees associated with expungements will also be waived.

“We’ve really tried to take this whole process which can happen over weeks and weeks and condense it as much as possible,” Sherlock said.

Jackson said the event, which has taken nearly a year to put together, hasn’t faced any stated opposition.

“Everyone here is about giving people chances to improve their lives,” Jackson said.