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Trying to find housing or a good-paying job with a blemish on your record can be next to impossible. Our State Legislature realized that we all make mistakes and enacted statutes that allow individuals to nullify some past convictions. Many refer to the process as "expungment", but here in Washington the term is "vacate" or "seal", depending on the court.
No, you can't erase an entire 20 year career of criminal activity, but adults can often vacate at least their most recent conviction (sometimes more), and entire juvenile records can be wiped clean.
The relevant statutes are written such that the eligibility tests are by exclusion. As long as nothing on the "no" list applies to you, you're eligible. For example, if you've recently been charged with a new crime that hasn't been resolved, then no, you cannot vacate a conviction just yet.
See RCW 9.96.060, RCW 9.94A.640, and RCW 13.50.260.
Most misdemeanors and gross-misdemeanors are eligible. You are allowed to vacate one adult misdemeanor, and it must be your most recent conviction. If you only have one conviction - great! - a vacation will wipe the slate clean. There is a 3 year wait from the time you complete your sentence, including probation, unless it was domestic violence related, then the wait is 5 years from sentence completion.
See RCW 9.96.060
Many felonies are eligible as well, but the wait can be longer. For a class C felony it is 5 years. For a class B felony it is 10 years. Class A felonies are never eligible (murder, rape, etc.). Some other felonies are inelgible as well, violent crimes for example.
See RCW 9.94A.640
The clock works a little differently for felonies compared to misdemeanors. A "Certificate of Discharge" must have been filed before the clock starts running on felonies. If the Department of Corrections closes out your supervision before your sentence is complete, it's on you to make sure that piece of paper gets filed. The clock doesn't start until it does. If you are unsure, an attorney can help you check. The 5 or 10 year wait period will not start without it.
See RCW 9.94A.640 and RCW 9.94A.637
If you have convictions that were filed in the juvenile system, you may be able to seal the entire juvenile record, regardless of how many convictions you racked up as a kid, and even if you've had run-ins with the law as an adult. Sealing is different than vacating, and better. Sealed juvenile records are treated "as if they never occurred."
Many people believe juvenile court records are already sealed from the public. That is true in Washington sometimes. But the list of exceptions is long. If your conviction doesn't qualify for "automatic" sealing, or you were convicted before that process was put in place, or you have multiple juvenile or adult convictions, it is probably still public record until you successfully petition the Court. If you are unsure, an attorney can help you check. Until then, the State Patrol reports the convictions just the same as those of adults.
See RCW 13.50.260
You can ask the court to seal your record 2 years after all convictions or diversions except class A felonies. If all the requirements are met, the court must grant your request. If you have certain class A felonies on your juvenile record, you may ask the court to seal it, but the wait is 5 years and the Judge has discretion to say "no."
See RCW 13.50.260
Understand that vacating or sealing a conviction does not automatically restore your right to possess firearms, if lost. You must petition the court separately to have your right returned.
You deserve a 2nd chance. Motion to vacate or seal your past today. An attorney can usally determine whether or not you are eliglble over the phone, and the cost is less than you'd expect. I charge a flat $1,250, which will be discounted considerably if you are vacating a conviction at the same time as restoring gun rights.
Once a prior conviction is vacated, you are legally entitled to say you were never convicted at all, and the State Patrol stops reporting it on background checks.
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