Determining whether you are eligible to vacate a conviction under Washington law is complex, and depends on the type of charge, when it occurred, and whether you have any other criminal history. Washington State Courts has information on how to vacate or seal a conviction yourself. If you rather not try to decipher the legal maze, please contact me to determine whether you are eligible to vacate or seal a conviction, or expunge non-conviction data. If you are indigent (i.e. qualify for a public defender), I regularly volunteer with the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association’s Volunteer Legal Services, which hosts free, monthly, record expungement, vacate, and sealing clinics.
Expungement. In Washington State, you can only “expunge” non-conviction data, which is information relating to an arrest where the charge was later dismissed. If you are booked in jail following an arrest, there will often be a record entered in the Washington State Patrol’s publicly available database, WATCH. If the crime is eventually dismissed by the court or a jury, this information may still be available to the public, and is referred to as non-conviction data. If certain criteria is met, you may be able to get the Washington State Patrol to delete this information from their database using this form.
Vacating a criminal conviction. If you have been convicted of a criminal offense, then you will not be able to get the Washington State Patrol to delete the non-conviction data, or expunge the arrest records, using the form above. But you may be able to ask the court to vacate the conviction. If the court allows you to vacate the conviction, the court will withdraw your plea of guilty, and dismiss the case. In the eyes of Washington law, you are no longer convicted of this offense. If the court grants your motion to vacate, the court will also direct the Washington State Patrol to delete the record of the conviction from thier WATCH database. For some offenses, such as DUI, you are never eligible to vacate the conviction. To vacate a conviction, you must be crime free for a period of time that varies depending on the type of charge. To determine if and when you are eligible to vacate a misdemeanor offense, see RCW 9.96.060. For felonies, see RCW 9.94A.640.
Sealing a Washington State conviction. Even after an offense is vacated, the fact that you were charged with a crime, which was later dismissed, is still publicly available court information because the court file is open to the public (and background check companies). The only way to prevent the public from being able to view the court file is to make a motion to seal the court file. Sealing a criminal conviction is difficult under Washington law. The court must weigh the person’s privacy interest against the public’s desire to have an open government. GR 15 lays out what needs to be done in order to seal a court file. Note that the rule states that if there is a victim of the crime, the victim must receive notice of a motion to seal.
Currently, what is and is not on a background check under Washington law is a complete mess. People often incorrectly think that if they get their charge reduced, or even dismissed, that it will not appear on background checks. This is not always the case. You can read more about the current background check mess, at my blog.
Compared to adult criminal offenses, juvenile offenses are much easier to seal the court record. It is also possible to have the court fines and restitution eliminated or converted to community service. Contact me if you need help in this regard.
Firearms restoration. I also assist people who have previously lost their firearms rights petition the court to restore their rights, if the law allows. Contact me for more information on this.
Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity. A recent law created an opportunity for offenders to obtain this certificate from the court. Unlike vacating the offense, obtaining this certificate does not dismiss the offense. However, the certificate attempts to restore eligibility for occupational licenses issued by the State and other local governments and agencies. Offenders who are ineligible to vacate their offense may still be eligible for this certificate. More information can be found on the Washington Court’s website. See RCW 9.97.010 and RCW 9.97.020 for eligibility requirements.