Vacating Criminal Records In Washington State

by ECL Writer

In the ever-evolving landscape of criminal justice reform, the State of Washington has emerged as a trailblazer in its commitment to providing individuals with a second chance at life. In a society that values redemption and reintegration, the process of vacating criminal records has become a powerful tool for those seeking a fresh start after a brush with the law.

Washington State’s progressive approach to criminal record expungement reflects a broader nationwide shift towards recognizing the importance of rehabilitation and reintegration into society. A criminal record, even for a minor offense, can be a significant barrier to obtaining housing, employment, or even educational opportunities, creating a cycle of disadvantage that can be difficult to break free from. Fortunately, Washington State’s legal framework for vacating criminal records offers a ray of hope to individuals looking to leave their past behind and move towards a brighter future.

In this comprehensive guide, will explore the ins and outs of vacating criminal records in Washington State. From the eligibility criteria and the application process to the potential benefits and the impact on one’s life, we will delve into the crucial details that anyone seeking to clear their record should be aware of. Join us on this journey through Washington’s progressive stance on criminal record vacating, where second chances are not only encouraged but actively supported by the law.

What Does Vacating A Record Mean?

If the court decides you satisfy specific requirements and directives, your misdemeanor conviction will be vacated. If you had previously pleaded guilty to a crime, the charges would subsequently be dropped if your plea was changed to not guilty. If you were found guilty, the court may throw out the verdict, throw out the case, and overturn the punishment.

If your record is vacated, the court’s database and online portal will still list your name, the case number, the charge, a “V” for vacated, and a “DV” if the file involved domestic violence. Information is not deleted from the court’s electronic record when a record is vacated. The document is public and will be kept. Information about the vacation of the record will be updated in the record.

Vacating Criminal Records In Washington State

You can overturn some felony and misdemeanor convictions in Washington. When your conviction is overturned, you can genuinely and legally claim that you were never found guilty of the offense in question. An FBI or Washington State Patrol background check will not reveal a “vacated” conviction.

An effective method for clearing your name and safeguarding your future is to get your conviction vacated. Regrettably, this branch of the law can be challenging.

Misdemeanors and felonies are dealt with differently. Different penalties apply to Class A felonies than to Class B and Class C offenses. Even petty offenses involving domestic violence are handled differently from other misdemeanor crimes.

The law has also lately undergone a significant revision. The New Hope Act, which loosened the guidelines for overturning convictions, was signed into law by Governor Inslee in July 2019.

Due to these factors, even on the websites of many law firms, the information and advice you get online isn’t necessarily reliable.

What Convictions Cannot Be Vacated?

A criminal conviction remains unalterable under the following circumstances:

  • There are pending criminal charges against you, whether within this state, in another state, or in federal court.
  • The offense committed falls within the category of violent offenses or attempts to commit such offenses, as defined by RCW 9.94A.030.
  • The conviction is related to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as per RCW 46.61.502.
  • The conviction pertains to actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as defined by RCW 46.61.504.
  • The conviction is for operating a railroad while intoxicated, as outlined in RCW 9.91.020.
  • The offense constitutes any misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor violation, including attempted obscenity and pornography, under RCW 9.68.
  • The conviction is for sexual exploitation of children, in accordance with RCW 9.68A.
  • The conviction is a sex offense, as delineated in RCW 9A.44.
  • For non-domestic violence cases, it has been less than 3 years since the completion of the original terms and conditions of the sentence, including any financial obligations or treatment ordered as a condition of sentencing.
  • For domestic violence cases, it has been less than 5 years since the completion of the original terms and conditions of the sentence, including any financial obligations or treatment ordered as a condition of sentencing.
  • For domestic violence cases, you cannot have prior convictions related to domestic violence before the one you are attempting to vacate.
  • You are presently under or have been within the last 5 years, subject to a domestic violence protection order, a no-contact order, an anti-harassment order, or a civil restraining order.

Misdemeanors Offenses

Misdemeanors are offenses typically punishable by a maximum of one year in jail or a fine of $5,000. You may request the expungement of your criminal record if:

  • You were convicted of a misdemeanor in Washington.
  • You have not been charged with any new crimes in any state or federal court.
  • A minimum of 3 years has elapsed since your case concluded, meaning you have fulfilled all sentence requirements, including court costs or fines. However, please note that this provision does not apply to domestic violence cases. For domestic violence cases, 5 years must have passed since the case was closed.
  • The conviction in question is not related to DUI, a sex offense, or classified as a violent offense in Washington.
  • You have not been convicted of any other crimes.
  • You have never had a prior criminal record vacated or expunged.
  • You do not currently have a no-contact or no-harassment order issued against you, nor have you had one against you within the past 5 years.

Felony Offenses

The process and requirements differ slightly. Not all felony convictions are eligible for expungement. You can pursue the process if:

  • You were convicted of a felony in Washington.
  • You have not been convicted of any other crimes since the conviction you are currently seeking to vacate.
  • You are not facing any new charges in any state in the US or in federal court.
  • Your conviction was not for a violent offense.
  • Your conviction was not for a crime against a person.
  • At least 10 years have passed if you were convicted of a Class B felony, and at least 5 years have passed if the conviction was for a Class C felony. Individuals convicted of a Class A felony cannot have their records vacated.
  • You have not previously used the expungement process.

How Does The Vacation Process Work In Washington State?

Typically, your attorney will assist you in submitting an application for a vacation to the particular court where you were found guilty. Your attorney will advise you of the precise rules that apply in each court.

The courts frequently demand that applicants complete a Vacating order form. A sample of the form is available here. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Washington State Patrol will receive notification of the order from the court if it is granted.

The data will still be available to the public, as was previously stated. Background checks will still list a vacated conviction, but they will say “vacated” rather than “conviction.”

Frequently Asked Questions about Vacating Criminal Records in Washington State

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

Vacating a criminal record in Washington State means that the court sets aside or nullifies a past criminal conviction. Once vacated, the conviction is no longer visible on most background checks, which can significantly improve an individual’s chances of finding employment and housing.

Who is eligible to vacate a criminal record?

Eligibility for record vacation in Washington depends on several factors, including the type of conviction, the time that has passed since the conviction, and an individual’s criminal history. Generally, non-violent misdemeanor and Class B or Class C felony convictions may be eligible for vacation if certain conditions are met.

Can all criminal convictions be vacated?

No, not all criminal convictions are eligible for vacation. Some convictions, such as sex offenses or crimes against children, cannot be vacated. Additionally, certain offenses may have specific waiting periods before they can be considered for vacation.

What is the waiting period for record vacation?

The waiting period varies depending on the type of conviction. Generally, most misdemeanors have a waiting period of three years, while Class B and C felonies may have a waiting period of five to ten years. Some convictions may have longer waiting periods or no eligibility for vacation at all.

How do I start the vacating process?

To begin the vacating process, you must file a petition with the court where you were convicted. This petition includes specific information about your case and the reasons you believe your conviction should be vacated. It’s advisable to consult with an attorney or a legal aid organization to help you prepare and file the petition correctly.

Do I need an attorney to vacate my record?

While it’s not required to have an attorney, seeking legal advice and representation is highly recommended. An attorney can guide you through the process, ensure your petition is properly prepared, and represent your interests in court. Many organizations offer free or low-cost legal assistance for individuals seeking record vacation.

How long does the vacating process take?

The duration of the process can vary, but it typically takes several months to a year. It involves court hearings and potential negotiations with prosecutors. The exact timeline depends on the court’s caseload and the complexity of your case.

What happens after my record is vacated?

Once your record is vacated, it is no longer visible on most background checks conducted by employers, landlords, or the public. You can legally state that you have not been convicted of the vacated offense. However, certain entities, such as law enforcement agencies, may still have access to the sealed records.

Can vacated records be unsealed or reappear on background checks?

In most cases, vacated records remain sealed. However, there may be exceptions, such as if you are charged with a new offense or if you apply for certain professional licenses or positions, where the records could be disclosed. It’s essential to understand the limitations and benefits of record vacation.

Are there any costs associated with record vacation?

There are fees associated with the vacating process, including court filing fees and potential attorney fees if you choose to hire legal representation. Some individuals may qualify for fee waivers based on their income. Additionally, consider the cost of obtaining legal documents and records required for your petition.

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