Virginia Record Sealing & Expungement Blog

Virginia Expungement: History and a look to the future

Last updated: March 15, 2024

Over the years, Virginia’s expungement laws have undergone a significant evolution, reflecting changing attitudes towards criminal justice and the recognition of the need for second chances. From their humble beginnings to the present day, these laws have shaped the lives of countless individuals and influenced the broader landscape of criminal justice reform. This article will consider the history of Virginia expungements, including the new record sealing laws passed in 2021.

Early Beginnings

Virginia’s expungement laws have their roots in early legal principles dating back centuries. The concept of expungement, or the sealing or erasure of criminal records, has long been recognized as a means of granting individuals a fresh start and protecting their privacy. However, in the early years of Virginia’s history, expungement was rare and often reserved for exceptional cases.

20th Century Reform

The 20th century saw significant advancements in criminal justice reform, including the expansion of expungement laws in Virginia. As societal attitudes towards rehabilitation and redemption evolved, so too did the recognition of the importance of expungement as a tool for promoting reintegration and reducing recidivism. In 1938, Virginia passed its first comprehensive expungement statute, laying the groundwork for future reforms.

Modernization and Expansion

In the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, Virginia’s expungement laws continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of society. Amendments to existing statutes and the introduction of new legislation expanded the scope of expungement eligibility, allowing more individuals to benefit from the opportunity to clear their records and move forward with their lives.

Landmark Legislation

One of the most significant milestones in the history of Virginia’s expungement laws came in 2021 with the passage of a law allowing pending criminal charges to be taken under advisement and expunged after dismissal. This groundbreaking legislation, enshrined in Virginia Code Section 19.2-298.02, provided a pathway for individuals with minimal or no prior criminal record to clear their names and rebuild their lives.

New Record Sealing Laws

In addition to the expungement law passed in 2021, Virginia also enacted new record sealing laws aimed at providing relief to individuals with certain criminal convictions on their records. These laws allow individuals to petition the court to seal their criminal records under certain circumstances, offering them a chance to move forward without the stigma of past mistakes hindering their opportunities.

Implications and Impact

The evolution of Virginia’s expungement laws, including the new record sealing laws, has had far-reaching implications for individuals and communities across the state. By offering second chances and promoting rehabilitation, these laws have empowered countless individuals to overcome the barriers posed by past mistakes and pursue brighter futures. Moreover, they have contributed to a more equitable and inclusive criminal justice system, fostering a sense of fairness and opportunity for all.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

Despite the progress made in recent years, challenges remain in ensuring that expungement and record sealing laws are accessible and equitable for all individuals. Addressing issues such as eligibility criteria, procedural barriers, and public awareness will be critical in maximizing the potential of these laws as tools for promoting justice and redemption. However, with continued advocacy and collaboration, Virginia can build on its legacy of criminal justice reform and pave the way for a brighter future for all.


In conclusion, the history of Virginia’s expungement laws, including the new record sealing laws passed in 2021, is a testament to the state’s ongoing commitment to justice, fairness, and second chances. From humble beginnings to landmark reforms, these laws have played a pivotal role in shaping the lives of individuals and communities across the state. As we look to the future, it is essential to build on this legacy, ensuring that expungement and record sealing remain cornerstones of Virginia’s criminal justice system and hope for those seeking redemption and a fresh start.


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