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NewsChannel 3 Investigation: Clearing your record might be harder to do than you realize

Posted at 4:03 PM, Feb 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-23 23:10:13-05

You could have charges on your record and not even know it. You can get arrested, go to court and charges are dismissed or dropped, but the arrest could still be on your record. And clearing your record might be harder to do than you realize.

Our NewsChannel 3 investigation is looking into the process of getting your record expunged.

Tidewater Community College adjunct professor Robert Williams said back in 2013 he was arrested for driving while intoxicated, however said he was found not guilty. Williams said the experience was horrible and his lawyer proved in court that there was no way that he was impaired behind the wheel, but the arrest remains on his record.

“You feel like you have a certain stigma associated with your character,” said Williams, “There are a lot of people walking around right now thinking that, ‘hey my record’s all good’, it’s just not the case.”

NewsChannel 3’s reporter Margaret Kavanagh faced a similar problem back in August a person filed a harassment complaint against her with the Norfolk Police Department.

Margaret called and texted the person a handful of times inquiring about a shooting, however the person did not want to answer questions.

A warrant was issued for Margaret’s arrest and there was a court hearing in October.

The person didn’t show up for the hearing so the charges were dismissed.

Margaret was not convicted of any crime, but wanted her record expunged.

Attorney Ed Booth with Shapiro, Appleton & Duffan, P.C. based out of Virginia Beach has worked several dozen expungement cases.

“There are certain classes of people who can get their record expunged. If your charge was nolle prossed you may be eligible to get your record expunged. If your charge was dismissed at trial, you will be eligible to have your record expunged. If you are convicted, however, and a lot of people ask about this, you cannot get your record expunged,” he says.

According to Virginia statute, you can try to get your record expunged if charges were dismissed, you were acquitted, or someone else committed a crime using your identity. Most of the time you are unable to get a conviction expunged.

You can hire a lawyer but that can get expensive. Costs can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands. It depends on the price determined by the attorney.

The paperwork can also be confusing.

“To a lot of people that can be an incredibly daunting task,” said Williams.

Margaret attempted to do it herself and broke down the basics of what you need to do.

Step 1: You’ve got to fill out a petition to have your record expunged. The paperwork can usually be picked up at the city clerk’s office.

Step 2: You’ve got to get a certified copy of the complaint.

Step 3: Pay up.

  • Norfolk  $103
  • Virginia Beach: $96
  • Chesapeake: $96
  • Portsmouth: $96
  • Hampton: $96
  • Williamsburg/James City County: $99
  • Suffolk: $98

Step 4: Head over to the police department to get finger printed. The cost varies depending on the police agency.

Step 5: You wait. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office will determine if your request was granted then send you a letter in the mail.

People like Williams don’t agree with this process.

“It totally doesn't make sense at all and I thought it was archaic and I began to say ‘how could this be. How could the state force people to pay to clear their name’ and I thought there had to be something that could be done," he says.

A year and a half ago,  Williams and his class took their complaint to Delegate Lionell Spruill.

He created a bill that looks to refund money to people who had to pay to get their record expunged.

“I was always taught that you were innocent until proven guilty but if you have not been proven guilty you should have no penalty,” said Williams.

Five and a half months after the complaint was made against Margaret, she got a letter in the mail saying the Commonwealth’s Attorney granted her request for an expungement.

Williams said he’s waiting to see how lawmakers vote on this latest bill to determine how he will move forward with his DWI charge, but says he plans to take care of it.

“If you don’t, it’s almost like that’s going to hang over your head,” said Williams.

According to SterlingBackCheck, an group that specializes in background checks, the type of arrest information that will come up on a background check depends on what the company requesting the information is asking for. Some background checks are more extensive than others. Prior arrests could turn up when you are applying for a new job, looking for a new place to live or applying for a loan.

In an email response, Angela Preston with SterlingBackCheck says:

“The EEOC has given guidance to employers that arrests should not be used in making employment decisions. However, arrests and dismissed cases may appear on a background report if they are recent or have occurred within the past seven years. The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows reporting of this type of information for a seven year window. In keeping with the EEOC guidance, many employers choose not to receive information that does not result in a conviction.”

Local expungement Information: