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Video, Highlights From This Morning’s Virginia State Crime Commission Meeting on Expungements, Earned Sentence Credits

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See below for video and highlights – courtesy of the indispensable VAPLAN – from this morning’s Virginia State Crime Commission meeting. In the end, the Commission endorsed the draft expungement legislation before them, “with report back to Crime Commission on status of regulating private criminal records databases.” The counter-argument by Sen. Scott Surovell (D), who voted no, was that “automatic expungement is like a mandatory minimum sentence in that it doesn’t take into account specifics,” and that we “need to keep certain convictions on the record since they’re known precursors to future offenses.” We’ll see if this legislation passes the House of Delegates – I hear that’s questionable – and the State Senate – I hear that’s *really* questionable. On another topic – earned sentence credits – the Commission “opt[ed] to add no exclusions to who is eligible” for them. Again, we’ll see what happens to that in the House of Delegates and State Senate…

  • Chair of Crime Commission, @C_Herring: “Exciting opportunity we have to give people a second chance once they’ve served their time.” This is “Phase One” of the expungement study. After presentation, Crime Commission will vote on the proposed legislation.
  • Study of expungement: 36 states allow expungement of at least some felony convictions. Half these states exclude violent felony offenses. 41 states allow expungement of at least some type of larcenies. The most common time frame was 3-5 years for misdemeanors, 5-10 for felonies.
  • Draft legislation from Crime Commission includes immediate automatic expungements for non-convictions, and for non-violent misdemeanors after a period of time.
  • @ssurovell asks Crime Commission staff to clarify difference between states allowing expungement and states allowing convictions records to be sealed (keeping them available to be accessed by law enforcement, for example).
  • Despite countless bills on expungement the last decade, Crime Commission staff didn’t use those as a starting place for their draft leg. They’re very focused on automatic expungement for lots of crimes, a huge leap from where we are now–can’t even petition for most crimes.
  • @SenEdwardsVA also seeks to clarify that when we’re talking about automatic expungement we want sealed, not expunged (tearing it up and never having it again). Crime Commission staff says records would be maintained, with access limited per General Assembly limits.
  • Deputy AG is concerned about automatic expungement if a conviction is not acquired, particularly in sex crimes, where it’s difficult to repeatedly bring charges, or violent crimes where cooperating witnesses have been killed. Would like a petition required in such crimes.
  • Crime Commission staff says draft legislation can be amended to add limitations (sex crimes, violent felonies) on non-convictions being automatically expunged. Also giving schools access to sealed records is a possible amendment. Committee votes unanimously to approve amendments.
  • Crime Commission member @LoriHaasVA asks what types of infractions, or interactions with the judicial system would preclude automatic expungement. Staff replies any conviction. (Domestic violence related restraining orders would not.)
  • Virginia Sheriffs Association wants to be sure that they have access to criminal records of their deputies, which was in fact already included in the proposed expungement legislation.
  • @ssurovell & others emphasize need to address private databases (req they go back & check current status of record before selling), or automating expungements will just incentivize them @C_Herring asks if 2024 enactment gives time to fix? Not likely, bc they’ll fight hard.
  • State Bar Assn asks to be added to list of who may access sealed criminal records because their ethics rules require lawyers report any criminal convictions to the Bar. (Really though, any industry could establish such “ethics rules” & then ask for access, which defeats purpose.
  • “Imagine the stigma that comes from having something on their record. every time you apply for a job to feed your family, your heart pounds wondering if that stigma will hold you back. It is out time to be bold, to step out. This is very important to people’s lives.”  @C_Herring
  • @C_Herring responds to criticism that Crime Commission has become partisan: “I put these to a study, and faced a lot of criticism for it….Yes, this is a shift. If someone has served their time, it’s important that they ability to clean their record.
  • @ssurovell argues for both more and less. Retroactive expungement for minor (racially-biased) convictions, but a shorter list of automatic expungements. And importantly, fix private databases simultaneously or this bill incentivizes them and hurts ex-offenders.
  • @ssurovell says he’s been working on this since he got elected, but that automatic expungement is like a mandatory minimum sentence in that it doesn’t take into account specifics. Need to keep certain convictions on the record since they’re known precursors to future offenses.
  • @krizekforva moves for Crime Commission to endorse draft expungement legislation
     @SenLouiseLucas seconds the motion. Vote held off to discuss whether the Commission supports a re-enactment clause to try to deal with private databases. (The bill already had a 2024 delay.)
  • Second enactment clause added to draft expungement legislation with report back to Crime Commission on status of regulating private criminal records databases. And the committee votes to endorse as amended.
  • After endorsing draft expungement legislation, Crime Commission moving on to earned sentence credits now.
  • @DonScott757 says we need to reward those who participate in counseling & get vocational training, with earned sentence credit: “Everybody’s coming home. If we want to keep our communities safe & respect victims of violent crime, we want to make sure they’re ready to come home.”
  • Victims’ families and advocates testify in Crime Commission against earned sentence credits, because the victims aren’t getting that second chance. “No one would be made better off by this,” a grandmother whose grandson was murdered testifies.
  • Chief Huggins of Virginia State Police want those convicted of murdering a police officer excluded from @DonScott757 earned sentence credit legislation.
  • @DonScott757 says he’d like his earned sentence credit bill to be the starting point of discussion for Crime Commission draft legislation: “I don’t want it to be that watered down version that came out of the Senate, that only applied to jaywalkers and trespassers.”
  • @DonScott757 asks, of earned sentence credits: “How do we want them to come home from this multi-billion dollar investment we’re making? Do we want them to come home with substance abuse treatment and job skills?”
  • First subject to address on earned sentence credits: who should be eligible? Any restrictions? Some states exclude those serving life, sex offenders, those convicted of violent felonies.
  • Crime Commission opts to add no exclusions to who is eligible for earned sentence credits.