Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions in Virginia

In addition to any penalties outlined in the Virginia Code, most convictions result in many collateral consequences, which can negatively impact your life.

Most people know that criminal charges can result in fines, jail time, or both. However, that’s not all.

In Virginia, many crimes have additional, collateral consequences with wide-ranging effects.

These consequences aren’t always obvious, but they can make a huge difference when you’re considering taking a plea bargain.

In this article, we’ll go over some examples of collateral consequences in Virginia.

Collateral Consequences for Virginia Residents

hunter with rifle during the fall.

A large majority of the collateral consequences you’ll hear about are dictated at the state level. For this reason, the types of collateral consequences in Virginia are quite different from those found in other states.

These consequences can range from ineligibility for professional licenses to restrictions on certain state benefits.

By far, the most useful tool for finding out the collateral consequences of a conviction is through the Justice Center’s searchable database: the National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction.

We’ll cover the most common collateral consequences below, but do note that this is far from an exhaustive list. Just Virginia, for example, has close to a thousand individual consequences in the Justice Center’s database.

Collateral Consequences for Felons

In Virginia, as in many other states, individuals permanently lose certain rights after a felony conviction. Specifically, felons cannot do any of the following:

  • Vote in any election.
  • Legally possess a firearm.
  • Serve on a jury.
  • Become a public notary.

Convicted felons may petition the governor’s office to restore some of these rights following their release from prison.

The only exception is the right to legally own a firearm. To restore your firearm rights, you must instead send a petition to the federal government.

Employment Eligibility

Under Virginia law, employers can request criminal background reports for any potential hires.

This makes it very hard for individuals convicted of certain crimes to find employment in Virginia.

This is doubly true when it comes to working for the government, as many branches of the Virginia government will consider your arrest record before hiring you.

On the other hand, neither government employers nor private companies are allowed to consider expunged records while hiring. 

The law also prohibits an employer from refusing to hire you for refusing to answer questions about your expunged charges.

Similarly, a Virginia employer cannot force you to disclose your criminal history.

While they may ask during an interview, you are not obligated to answer.

In a similar fashion, the law also allows employers to pass over an individual for their refusal to disclose their criminal history.

Unlike race, gender, or religion, conviction status is not a protected class in regards to employment opportunity.

Private Housing

In Virginia, landlords are allowed to perform background checks on potential tenants.

The landlord can then use this information to disqualify candidates with criminal records from renting.

Needless to say, this can present a substantial barrier to former convicts trying to rent a home.

At the same time, Virginia landlords must also follow the national Fair Housing Guidelines.

These guidelines explicitly prohibit landlords from requiring background checks for individuals of certain racial or religious backgrounds.

For example, a landlord who only performs background checks on non-white applicants is in violation of federal Fair Housing Statutes.

If you are aware of such discrimination, you should speak with an attorney immediately.

You should also file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Public Housing

In addition to making private housing difficult to find, certain crimes will also disqualify both you and your family from public housing (including Section 8 vouchers).

Examples of these types of crimes include:

  • Violent offenses of many kinds
  • Sexual offenses
  • Drug trafficking
  • Certain types of fraud

This is sometimes called the “One Strike, You’re Out” policy, since a single felony can get your entire family evicted.

Due to Virginia’s crackdown on drugs in the 90s, many public housing contracts included clauses that allow for eviction if anyone in a household is convicted of a crime.

This rule also applies to any guests of that household.

For this reason, certain crimes, if convicted, can lead to consequences not only for you, but for your family and friends as well.

Collateral Consequences for Immigrants

refugee child goes on the road with her old suitcase

In many respects, immigrants have the most to worry about when it comes to collateral consequences.

While immigrants have to deal with all the other consequences we’ve detailed above, they also have to worry about deportation and other federal punishments.

Further, by “immigrants” we mean any non-citizen currently living in the U.S., including both people in the country on visas and individuals currently holding green cards.

Generally speaking, crimes that can result in deportation fall into two categories: crimes involving moral turpitude, and aggravated felonies.

A conviction for either can result in removal proceedings for visa and green card holders alike.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude

A crime of moral turpitude is one that demonstrates “poor moral character” in some extreme way.

Because that’s a subjective test, not all judges decide moral turpitude in the same way.

Additionally, these decisions are often heavily dependent on the actual circumstances of the case.

As a result, it can be hard to know whether or not a judge will consider your criminal history as proof of moral turpitude.

Nevertheless, judges generally consider the following acts to be crimes of moral turpitude:

  • Child or spousal abuse
  • Sexual offenses, such as rape or sexual assault
  • Aggravated DUI/DWI
  • Certain drug crimes, depending on the state
  • Crimes involving violence or theft, other than that covered under “Aggravated Felonies” below

Finally, while certain petty offenses seldom count as crimes of moral turpitude, the final decision always lies with the individual judge in your case.

Rather than basing their decision on simply basing their decision on a list of crimes, think of this process more as a judgement of your overall character.

For this reason, multiple instances of these petty crimes, even things as small as traffic tickets, will still often lead to deportation.

Aggravated Felonies

Visa and green card holders who commit aggravated felonies can also end up in removal proceedings.

However, unlike crimes of moral turpitude which are based on the judge’s discretion, the law clearly defines which crimes directly lead to deportation.

The law clearly defines which crimes count as aggravated felonies (see definition 43).

The list is extensive and includes some relatively commonplace offenses.

Some common examples of aggravated felonies include:

  • Murder
  • Assault and battery
  • Burglary and certain felony theft crimes
  • Trafficking or illegally selling drugs, firearms, or explosives
  • Human trafficking-related offenses

A conviction for any of these crimes will almost always result in deportation, in addition to any of the collateral consequences we’ve detailed in the previous sections.


hands typing on laptop, window in the background.

Navigating a criminal charge in Virginia is hard enough as it is, and the collateral consequences of a conviction only make the issue more complicated.

For that reason, it’s important to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer before pleading guilty to any charge.

Keeping track of all the collateral consequences of a conviction can be tricky, so you’ll want to make sure you understand the implications of such a conviction before you set foot in the courtroom.

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