Expungement is an often misunderstood term and process. In Washington State expungement of a criminal record or criminal conviction is accomplished by Vacating the Criminal Conviction. The terms Expungement and Vacating are largely interchangeable, the difference being that Vacating is the legal term.
Expungement of a criminal record by vacating the conviction does not destroy or seal the file. However, it is possible to destroy, or expunge, an arrest record if the eligibility requirements are met. When an arrest record is expunged, the booking photos and fingerprints are destroyed and removed from the police record.
In Washington State, the expungement process differs between felony and misdemeanor convictions. The following 7 steps are an overview of what is involved.
1. The Required Time Period has Passed Since the Case Completed.
The first eligibility requirement to expunge your conviction in Washington State is passage of the required time period. For a misdemeanor, the time period begins to run on the date the case is Closed. For a felony conviction, the time period begins to run on the date a document called a Certificate of Discharge is filed with the court. In both instances, a case is Closed or a Certificate of Discharge is filed after all the sentence conditions are completed as required.
2. The Conviction is Eligible for Expungement.
Certain convictions, and classifications of convictions, are not eligible for Expungement in Washington State. Generally, class A felonies (the most serious), sex crimes, and violent crimes cannot be expunged in Washington State. Among misdemeanors, Washington State does not permit a DUI conviction to be expunged.
3. You Meet the Clean Behavior Requirement.
Two situations will make your conviction ineligible for expungement. For a misdemeanor, if you were convicted of another crime on a later date then you would not be eligible to have the misdemeanor expunged. For example, if you were convicted of a misdemeanor in 1995, and another crime in 1997, then the 1995 crime would not be eligible to be expunged. For a felony, if you were convicted of another crime after the date the Certificate of Discharge was filed then you cannot expunge the felony.
4. Special Rule for Misdemeanors.
Washington State has an interesting rule that applies only to misdemeanor convictions. To expunge a misdemeanor, you cannot have had any other conviction expunged (vacated). What this means is if a person has a felony conviction and a misdemeanor conviction, and the person expunged the felony conviction first, then the misdemeanor could no longer be expunged. However, if the misdemeanor was expunged first, and if the misdemeanor conviction occurred before the felony conviction, then the felony could still be expunged.
An expungement, or vacation of a criminal conviction, requires a judge to sign a court Order. The court process is begun by filing a Motion to Vacate Conviction with the court. Prior to filing the Motion, you should get copies of the Docket and the Judgment & Sentence from the court clerk. You should also obtain a criminal history report, called a WATCH Report, from the Washington State Patrol website.
6. Your Day In Court.
Most Washington State courts require a hearing to Expunge, or Vacate, a criminal conviction. Most courts do not require you to attend if you have a lawyer appearing at the hearing on your behalf. If the preparation has been done properly, then the hearing should go very smoothly and the judge will sign the Court Order Vacating your criminal conviction.
7. Your Criminal Record is Cleared.
The court clerk processes the Order and sends a certified copy to the Washington State Patrol, which removes the conviction from the public database. The FBI record is updated based on the Washington State record. And, if the Order was prepared correctly, a copy will also be sent to the police department that handled the case and your record will also be cleared in their file. Your conviction has now been expunged (vacated), and your criminal record is cleared.
As you can see, you don’t have to be stuck with a criminal conviction on your record. It is not difficult to expunge a conviction in Washington State if you meet the straightforward criteria. In most cases, these 7 steps take only a few weeks to complete.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Douglas Stratemeyer has been a lawyer since 1992, and is a former part-time judge, who helps people expunge Washington State criminal convictions, clear criminal records, expunge juvenile criminal records, and restore firearm possession rights. Read more about him and how to clear your criminal record at his website http://www.StratemeyerLaw.com.
Copyright ©2008 Douglas Stratemeyer. All Rights reserved.