Next week the Virginia General Assembly will consider a bill to revamp the commonwealth’s expungement laws.
SB 5009 provides that a person with a previous first-offender dismissal under the underage alcohol or false ID laws may have all records of those charges expunged. Currently dismissals after deferred dispositions are not eligible for expungement even though they are not technically convictions.
Possessing or purchasing alcohol under age 21 is a class 1 misdemeanor, meaning jail time and significant fines are on the table. But in reality prosecutors rarely pursue convictions for these charges, likely because most people at one point consumed alcohol while under age 21 (I can put myself in that category).
The underage alcohol law has a safety valve for first time offenders: complete an alcohol education program, perform community service, and the charge will be dismissed. However, because that dismissal involved conditions to earn it, it is not eligible for expungement. The new law would change that and allow first-time alcohol offenders to wipe their records clean.
This is similar to the reform of marijuana dismissals that would automatically seal records relating to marijuana possession charges. The goal is to prevent common, petty, innocuous charges like underage alcohol possession from causing future issues with applications for higher education, employment, and obtaining credit.
Virginia public policy is clearly headed in the direction of making it easier for people to keep their youthful transgressions from inhibiting their progress into adulthood. As someone with an underage alcohol infraction of his own back in the day, I am all for it.
Such things should not disqualify or hinder someone from pursuing their professional goals. If anything, and especially in my case, these life experiences make people better at what they do. I can relate to my clients in these situations because I have experienced it myself. I only wish I had been eligible for expungement.