FAQ: Vacating Your Criminal Convictions In Washington

by ECL Writer

If you have a criminal conviction in the state of Washington, you may be wondering if it’s possible to have your record vacated or expunged. Having a criminal record can have serious consequences, affecting your ability to find employment and housing, and even impacting your personal relationships. Fortunately, Washington State provides a legal process through which individuals can seek to vacate certain criminal convictions. This FAQ aims to provide you with essential information about vacating criminal convictions in Washington.

What does it mean to “vacate” a criminal conviction?

Vacating a criminal conviction essentially means that you are asking the court to set aside or nullify your conviction. If your request is granted, it’s as if the conviction never occurred, and you can legally state that you have not been convicted of that particular crime.

Can convictions in Washington be expunged?

No.

Although they are frequently used synonymously, “expungement” and “vacated” have different meanings. Your records are physically deleted when you have them expunged. Your conviction will not show up on a state or federal background check if it has been vacated, which means it has been officially erased from your criminal record.

Criminal convictions cannot be wiped out in Washington. Only law enforcement records without a conviction may be erased. Although voided records are hidden from the public view, conviction records are always there in court databases.

Is a vacated conviction the same as a dismissed case in Washington?

More like it. A vacated conviction is handled just like it never happened. It is comparable to a dropped criminal charge in that regard.

A vacated conviction, however, nevertheless has some of the same effects as a conviction. A criminal conviction in Washington results in the loss of weapon rights, even if the conviction is later overturned.

Who is eligible to vacate their criminal convictions in Washington?

Eligibility criteria can vary depending on the type of conviction, but in general, you may be eligible if:

  • You have completed all the terms of your sentence, including probation, parole, or community service.
  • Sufficient time has passed since the completion of your sentence or supervision.
  • You do not have any pending criminal charges.
  • Your conviction is eligible for vacation under Washington law.

What happens when a conviction is vacated in Washington?

When your conviction is vacated, the following events transpire:

  • The court dismisses your case and expunges your guilty verdict.
  • All disabilities and restrictions stemming from the offense are lifted.
  • You can honestly affirm under oath that you have never been convicted of the crime.
  • The conviction is expunged from your Washington state criminal record, and the court forwards your vacation order to the FBI.

What convictions are eligible for vacation in Washington?

Washington law allows for the vacation of certain misdemeanor and felony convictions, but not all convictions can be vacated. Eligible convictions typically include non-violent offenses, such as drug possession, theft, or some forms of forgery. Violent crimes and sex offenses are generally not eligible for vacation.

How long does a conviction stay on your record in Washington?

Possibly for all time. Your case will always be listed on your criminal history record until you are successful in getting your conviction overturned. In another sense, vacated convictions never completely go away since the courts and law enforcement can still access them for specific purposes.

Is a deferred sentence the same as a conviction in Washington?

Yes. When you accept a deferred sentencing agreement, you plead guilty and the court places you on probation. During this time, you must comply with a number of requirements, including paying penalties, receiving treatment, and avoiding specific individuals. The court will dismiss your case if your probation was satisfactorily completed.

You may legitimately believe that a sentence that is postponed doesn’t constitute a conviction, but you’d be mistaken. A “conviction” is defined under RCW 10.97.030 as a criminal conviction or an unfavorable disposition as “a dismissal entered after a period of probation, suspension, or deferral of sentence.”

Can I vacate more than one misdemeanor conviction in Washington?

Yes.  You can vacate as many misdemeanors for which you are legally eligible.

Can I vacate more than one felony in my lifetime?

Yes.  Like misdemeanors, you can vacate as many felonies for which you are legally eligible. 

Can I vacate a Class A felony in Washington?

No.  You cannot vacate any class A felony in Washington.  The most common class A felonies are murder, robbery in the first degree, and burglary in the first degree.

Can I vacate a Class B felony in Washington?

Probably.  With certain exceptions, you can vacate any class B felony so long as you have been crime-free for a period of 5 years after you were convicted.

Can I vacate a Class C felony in Washington?

Very likely.  With certain exceptions, you can vacate any class C felony so long as you have been crime-free for a period of 5 years after you were convicted.

Does vacating my felony conviction restore my gun rights?

No.

In Washington, vacating your criminal conviction and restoring your gun rights are entirely separate procedures.  Restoring your gun rights will not clear your criminal record, and vacating your conviction will not restore your right to possess a firearm.

To vacate your conviction, you have to go back to the court where you were convicted.  But to restore your gun rights, you have to file a new civil case in the appropriate superior court.

How long do I have to wait before I can apply to vacate my conviction?

The waiting period varies depending on the specific conviction. Typically, you must wait a certain number of years after completing your sentence and any required supervision or probation. For misdemeanors, this waiting period is usually three to five years, while for most felonies, it can be five to ten years.

How do I start the process of vacating my criminal conviction?

The process begins by filing a motion with the court that handled your original case. You’ll need to complete the necessary forms and pay any associated filing fees. It’s highly recommended that you consult with an attorney who specializes in criminal defense or expungement to assist you with the process, as it can be complex.

What factors will the court consider when deciding whether to grant my request for vacation?

The court will take several factors into consideration when deciding whether to vacate your conviction. These factors may include:

  • The nature and seriousness of the offense.
  • Your criminal history before and after the conviction.
  • Your rehabilitation efforts, such as completing treatment programs or education.
  • The impact of the conviction on your life, including employment and housing opportunities.
  • Any objections or concerns raised by the prosecutor or other parties.

Do I need an attorney to vacate my conviction?

While you are not required to have an attorney to vacate your conviction, it is highly recommended. An attorney with experience in criminal defense or expungement can help you navigate the legal process, increase your chances of success, and ensure that all necessary paperwork is properly filed.

Can I represent myself in court if I can’t afford an attorney?

Yes, you have the right to represent yourself in court, even if you cannot afford an attorney. This is known as “pro se” representation. However, it’s important to understand that the legal process can be complex, and it’s highly advisable to seek legal assistance if possible. You may also inquire about legal aid organizations that can provide free or low-cost legal services to eligible individuals.

Are there any convictions that cannot be vacated?

Yes, certain convictions cannot be vacated in Washington, including those for violent crimes, sex offenses, and some other serious offenses. Additionally, if you have multiple convictions that are not eligible for vacation, it may impact your ability to vacate other convictions.

Can I apply for expungement if I have a deferred prosecution or deferred sentence?

If you received a deferred prosecution or deferred sentence, you may be eligible to have your case dismissed, which can result in the opportunity to vacate the charges later. Consult with an attorney to understand the specific requirements and procedures for your case.

Is there a fee to file a motion to vacate a conviction?

Yes, there are typically filing fees associated with filing a motion to vacate a conviction. The amount can vary depending on the county and the specific case. If you cannot afford the filing fees, you may be able to request a fee waiver or reduction based on your financial circumstances.

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