A criminal record in Seattle can impact your ability to get work, housing, public benefits, financial aid for education, to drive, or to enjoy other rights or privileges, such as voting. You can apply to have the record of your conviction vacated or sealed. You must meet certain conditions set by Washington law. Remember, the record of your conviction won't be destroyed. In fact, this conviction could still be used against you if you are later charged with another crime. Here at FindLaw we've compiled some general information about expunging a Seattle arrest and/or conviction record.
Important Vocabulary: Arrest Record vs. Conviction
The most important part of the expungement process is understanding what is available to you under Washington state law.
Let's have a vocabulary lesson. The term "expungement" refers to removing "non conviction data" from your record. What the heck does that mean? It means you can remove an arrest record or a criminal charge that was later dismissed. This process has nothing to do with criminal convictions.
If you want to remove a criminal conviction from your record, it's known as "vacating" the criminal conviction.
Here's the deal. Only in very limited circumstances will you be able to actually clear your criminal record, as in, remove or destroy information. In those very limited instances that you will be able to delete information from your record, you will only be able to remove information that is explained below as "non-conviction data."
You are eligible to have your non-conviction data deleted if you meet these criteria:
- Your case involves only "non-conviction" data, not a criminal conviction. This could be an arrest record, or a criminal charge that was dismissed;
- You haven't been charged with, or arrested for, a new crime;
- You haven't had a prior conviction for a felony or gross misdemeanor;
- Two years have passed since your case became "non-conviction data". Or, three years have passed since your arrest date, and the case is not pending in court. The two-year time period applies most often to a situation where a court dismissed the criminal charge.
Sign Me Up. How So I Begin?
You or your attorney probably have got some work to do. First, it's important to figure out exactly which police department arrested you. The Washington State Patrol (WSP) maintains records on arrests, detentions, charges, convictions, and acquittals within the state. You'll need to order a copy of your records. Then, you'll petition the WSP (WSP) and the police agency that handled the investigation of your incident to delete it. The WSP has a standard form they use, but other police agencies may have their own. It is a good idea to also file requests with the law enforcement agency that handled the investigation of the incident.
What Happens If My Request Is Granted?
WSP will delete the information from their database. It is a good idea to keep a copy of the result for yourself also. This process of deleting your record does not necessarily mean that the records are destroyed. It denies the public access to the records and requires that all mention of the charge be removed from your permanent public record.
Also, you'll be able to pass background checks more easily. Why? Because your law enforcement record will be removed from the database, and any fingerprints and booking photographs destroyed.
What If I Just Want to Correct Inaccurate or Incomplete Criminal History Records?
You can. Basically you would do this if a state or local law enforcement agency was giving out the wrong information about your criminal history. For example, let's say the police department reported that you were arrested, charged, or convicted for something when it never happened to you. Or, if you were arrested for one crime, but charged or convicted of a less serious crime.
Contact whatever agency has the record and learn what their procedures are. Generally, you'll have to make a written request. If your request is denied, you can always appeal to the superior court.
There's two separate processes -- one for misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors and one for felonies. Let's first talk misdemeanors.
A misdemeanor is generally an offense punishable by a fine of no more than $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail. A gross misdemeanor is a crime punishable by no more than a $5,000 fine and up to one-year in jail. You are eligible to vacate your record if:
- Your criminal conviction is for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor in Washington State;
- You are not currently charged with a new crime in any state or federal court;
- Three years have passed since your case "closed." Your case is "closed" when you have completed all the terms of the sentence, including all financial obligations, such as court costs or fines. The three-year requirement applies if your case did not involve domestic violence;
- If it's a domestic violence, then five years must pass from the date your case "closed;"
- You weren't convicted for a DUI, a sex offense, or a crime that is classified as a "violent offense" by Washington State law;
- You haven't been convicted of another crime since the date you were convicted of the crime you want to have expunged;
- You have never had another criminal conviction vacated or expunged;
- You don't currently have a no-contact order or a no-harassment protection order against you, and have not had one against you within the past five years.
What Is the Procedure to Vacate My Misdemeanor?
More paperwork. There's a specific form you'll need to fill out and file with the court where the conviction took place. Here's a list of Seattle courts and a copy of the form to fill out. Each court has their own specific rules, so be sure to follow them.
What About My Felony Conviction?
The process is similar. You will probably need to contact there court where you were convicted. Here are the criteria:
- You were convicted of a Washington State felony;
- You don't have any criminal charges pending against you anywhere;
- Washington State law doesn't classify your conviction as a "violent offense." You can't get a "violent felony" conviction vacated;
- Your felony conviction is not classified by Washington State law as a "crime against a person;"
- You have not been convicted of another crime since the date of discharge. The courts file a Certificate of Discharge when all sentence conditions have been completed, including expiration of any no-contact order issued as part of the sentence.
- For a class B felony, ten years must have passed; for a class C felony, the time period is 5 years. The time begins to run from the "date of discharge."
What Happens if the Court Grants My Request?
You can legally say you've never been convicted of that crime. The information cannot be included in your criminal history, but can be used for some purposes in a later prosecution. The court is supposed to send notice of the order to the WSP. As with all government agencies, sometimes things fall through the cracks. Keep copies. You can get certified copies of the order from the clerk of the court after the judge signs the order and send them to other law enforcement agencies that could have your information on file.
Can't I just get my criminal conviction record completely destroyed?
In short, probably not. There isn't a law in Seattle that allows your criminal conviction record to be completely destroyed. Vacating the conviction will not remove the record from public eye or destroy the court file, it will only act to change the notation in the record from "convicted" to "vacated."
A vacated conviction can still show up on many background checks, so it is good to be prepared with a certified copy of the order. The Washington courts website has more information, too.
The Bottom Line
This is really complicated stuff and is information of general application, so you may want to talk to a Seattle criminal lawyer or find a Seattle legal aid provider to discuss your specific situation and needs, as well as how the law applies in your case.