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Confidentiality of Your Virginia DUI & Criminal Case – or Not

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Confidentiality of your Virginia DUI and criminal case- An important concern

Confidentiality of your Virginia DUI and criminal case unfortunately is a concern, beyond the already vital task of defending yourself in court. As a Fairfax DUI lawyer, I have repeatedly seen this very reasonable concern arise with my clients, in terms of having to disclose (or not) a pending charge to their employer, police news releases, public availability of Virginia court dockets, proactive contacts by authorities to employers and immigration authorities, and private companies that harvest and publicize your case information even if it is expunged.

Must I disclose my pending Virginia DUI or criminal prosecution to my employer or to security clearance / public trust authorities?

My DUI and criminal defense clients often ask whether they are obligated to report their pending court case to their employers. I reply that for private employers, I expect that their employment contracts and employee manuals/memos will provide guidance, and that they may wish to consult with an employment lawyer on the matter. The security clearance lawyer with whom I usually consult advises of the importance for security clearance holders and those with public trusts to timely report their criminal charges to their field security officer (FSO), which this security clearance officer further elucidates here. Clearly, confidentiality of your case is an issue early on.

Will Googling my name turn up my pending Virginia DUI or criminal prosecution online?

Confidentiality of your case is often a case of degree, rather than remaining fully confidential. The existence of an adult criminal prosecution is a matter of public record that is available to be publicized far and wide. How widely your pending Virginia criminal or DWI case gets publicized, if at all, depends on such factors as typical procedure of the applicable police department, interest by print and online news and social media sources, and how sleepy the news cycle is for that day and week. For small town newspapers, posting new criminal prosecutions is an easy and inexpensive ways for news media to fill newsprint and the airwaves. Beware that each time you Google your name for your pending court case, you may be unwittingly making your case more visible in Google search results for all people who in the future simply Google your name alone.

Will my Virginia DWI or criminal case show up by checking online court dockets?

If your pending Virginia DUI or criminal case is in a General District Court, it will eventually be docketed and found here. If your case is in Circuit Court, most Circuit Court cases online, but not for such counties as Fairfax. Not available online are Juvenile & Domestic Relations (JDR) District Court case dockets. Unfortunately for criminal defendant confidentiality, for a few year it has been possible to do a statewide Virginia criminal court case search, whereas beforehand such searches could only be conducted county by county. A visit to your courthouse will turn up information about your case, including adult cases in JDR court. Furthermore, fueled by Covid-19 preferences to limit unnecessary visits by the public to court clerk windows, many Virginia District Courts now have entire criminal defendant case files scanned into computer systems that can be accessed from public courthouse kiosks, which makes it easier for people to get information about your case, versus the impediment of waiting on a line to access the court clerk’s window.

Will police, prosecutors, pretrial release authorities or probation authorities honor confidentiality, or inform my employer or immigration authorities about my pending Virginia criminal or DUI prosecution?

The above confidentiality question is very legitimate. Many jail, pretrial release and probation officials as a matter of policy or otherwise inform immigration authorities about non-United States citizens with pending criminal charges. Pretrial release and probation officials may want to contact criminal defendants’ employers to verify their employment; I believe they should give the defendant the option to decline such contact. Who is to say that police under certain circumstances will not inform a prosecuted or convicted defendant’s employer of the case, at least for such sensitive jobs as those in healthcare, military and law enforcement?

Will Fairfax prosecutors report my case to the immigration authorities or keep some confidentiality over my case?

My understanding is that the chief Fairfax prosecutor — and the Fairfax county government as a whole — disfavor disclosing information to federal immigration authorities, unless the governing law or court order(s) require otherwise. Of course, that confidentiality issue does not speak for other counties’ chief prosecutors, nor about making exceptions to standard procedures, nor to whether any line prosecutors will deviate from such policies. Virginia DUI and criminal defense lawyers need to keep all of this in mind.

What should I do about the companies threatening to post and keep my Virginia criminal case on their website unless I bribe them to remove it?

Companies exist that do not care about your case confidentiality and harvest information about certain criminal cases, and then contact the defendant offering to remove that information from their website (and possibly also not to post the information in the first place) in exchange for payment. As slimy as that practice is, such companies can summon the First Amendment of the Constitution to their side as to anyone wishing to take legal action against them, even if they are doing this with information that has been ordered expunged after a Virginia criminal or DUI defendant gets their case acquitted or dismissed.

Will my Virginia DUI or criminal defense lawyer keep my case confidential?

My staff and I maintain strict confidentiality of all our clients’ cases and case information, from the very moment that you first contact my law office. Merely because any of your case information is available to the public does not change that. The court’s and other authorities’ choice to make your case information public does not make me mirror the same.

Should I ask my Virginia criminal or DUI defense lawyer’s help to put my court case and case results into perspective?

I offer all my clients to write a generic letter that puts their case into perspective for employers and others, including that people are presumed innocent while their cases are pending, a case dismissal means that a conviction never took place and guilt was never proven, a conviction for DUI or other offenses does not define the person,  an downward-amended charge and dismissed more serious charges may indicate the defendant was overcharged, and a favorable sentence is indicative of the lower seriousness level of the case. Even though confidentiality can go out the window with a  conviction, having this kind of letter from me can be very helpful for my criminal and DUI defense clients.

Fairfax DUI / criminal defense lawyer Jonathan Katz pursues your best defense against Virginia DWI, misdemeanor and felony prosecutions, while keeping mindful of minimizing and eliminating adverse collateral consequences of your court case to your livelihood, reputation and other critical areas of your life. Find out the positive impact that Jon Katz can make for your defense by scheduling a free in-person confidential consultation with him about your court-pending case, at 703-383-1100.