RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Monday, a subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice considered several bills that would have helped people get their records expunged for a number of crimes.
Monica Charleston’s criminal record is a long list of memories she wants to forget.
“This is not who I am,” Charleston told the lawmakers while holding up a stack of papers. “This is who I was, not who I am today.”
Charleston visited the Capitol from Virginia Beach to share her personal experience and push for change.
“I have over 170 arrest charges for prostitution on my record,” she said.
She told lawmakers she is a survivor of human sex trafficking. Even after she escaped, her record followed her.
“Every time I went to look for a job, every time I applied for PTA, every time I went to volunteer at my kids’ and then my grandkids’ schools…every time I looked for an apartment, every time I did anything, they pull your record,” she said.
She was eventually able to get her record sealed, but said not everyone is that lucky.
That’s why she supported a bill introduced by Del. David Yancey (R-Newport News). HB962 would allow people who were forced into prostitution to petition to get those convictions wiped from their records.
“This haunts you,” said Charleston.
Yancey’s second bill before the subcommittee, HB961, would have helped wipe certain other convictions from the records of human sex trafficking victims.
“When we get these charges, of course we’re doing something we’re not supposed to be doing, but we have no choice,” Brittni Crabill told the lawmakers.
Crabill identified herself as a victim of human trafficking. She said she was coerced into it when she was 15.
She said her experience over the next decade led her to rack up other convictions, including a felony. But the charge wasn’t for prostitution.
Crabill said her trafficker used to buy social security cards and IDs and use them to set up fraudulent accounts for utilities and rent.
“And I was told to hold it,” she said. “We got pulled over and I got charged with fraudulent use/possession of identifying information.”
Since then, her employment opportunities have been limited.
“I don’t want to work in fast food forever. My dream is to open a drop-in center and own my own safe house and help other victims of human trafficking, but until my past gets cleared up, I can’t do it,” said Crabill.
Ultimately, the subcommittee voted down both bills.
Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) noted it is “very difficult” to do an expungement years after a conviction.He said it would be better to find a fix for the problem on the front end rather than after the fact.
The subcommittee members recommended the legislation be fine-tuned and sent to the crime commission in the offseason for a closer look.
“I know it just adds time to the process, but it’s a place where we try and make sure we get things right,” said Chairman Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock).
Though his legislation failed to move forward Monday, Yancey is still optimistic.
“I think this is something where we’d look forward to working with them on the offseason,” said Yancey.
“I’ll be honest with you, I think Virginia’s code is too strict in the area of expungement,” said Cole.
The first two bills would have allowed police and court records relating to a person’s conviction be expunged if that person were granted an absolute pardon — either automatically or by petition.
Cole’s third bill would have allowed Virginians convicted of certain offenses they committed when they were under 21 to file a petition for expungement. At least seven years would need to pass since the conviction and the person would have to successfully complete all terms of probation first.
He said even people who have received pardons are still having trouble gaining employment.
“If you have a conviction, some employers just won’t touch you,” said Cole. “Back in the old days before the internet and before everything was interconnected, people used to be able to go to the next town and put their past behind them and get on with their life. That is no longer the case anymore. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter when you did it. It always follows you,” said Cole.
Gilbert said most employers would choose to look past a youthful indiscretion. And, for those who don’t, they should be able to make the decision for themselves.