Expungement and record sealing are legal processes that erase or hide your criminal record so it does not appear on a criminal background check. Employers, landlords, credit agencies, schools and countries issuing travel visas can easily access your public record and deny you an opportunity based primarily on a past indiscretion. If you arrange to have your record sealed or expunged, it is as though your arrest or conviction never occurred.
What is Expungement or Sealing?
Although expungement and record sealing are essentially synonymous, record sealing in Washington applies only to juvenile court files. It also applies to adult convictions that have been vacated.
Records of a deferred disposition for juveniles are sealed upon request within 30 days after the juvenile turns 18, provided no other charges are pending. If your record consists solely of referrals for disposition, you can request an order to destroy your juvenile records when you reach the age of 23 if no other proceedings are pending. As with an expungement, you can truthfully state that you were never adjudicated a delinquent or convicted of a crime. Your sealing order, however, is voided if you are charged with a subsequent juvenile or adult criminal offense.
Sealing or expunging a court record does not completely eradicate it because it continues to be maintained by law enforcement and government agencies. You are required to disclose a conviction on applications for professional licenses, jobs with law enforcement or other public agencies, or if applying for the military. However, you can state that your records were sealed, expunged or that a conviction was vacated.
Are You Eligible?
Washington only allows expungement of criminal records under very limited circumstances. To be eligible, you must not have pled guilty or found guilty of the crime, you must have no pending charges in any court, and three years must have passed since your arrest or the date the case was filed. You may also be eligible if at least two years have passed since your case was dismissed or you were acquitted. You may have your juvenile records sealed only if you were not convicted of a sex offense, do not have a juvenile or criminal offense pending, have made full restitution, and at least two years have passed with no other convictions. For some convictions, you may need to be at least 18.
Washington provides an alternative to expungement for an adult conviction. You may vacate certain misdemeanor or felony convictions that are not eligible under the expungement laws. Your record may be sealed after it is vacated, or the court may order your record sealed if you make a compelling case that privacy or safety concerns outweigh the public interest. No violent misdemeanors or sex offenses may be vacated, and you cannot already have had a previous record vacated. No intoxicated driving offenses are eligible and you may not have had a restraining order against you in the past five years. Only Class B or Class C adult felonies can be vacated after final discharge, provided enough years have passed and you have no other convictions.
Speak to an Expungement and Record Sealing Attorney
Washington's laws on expungement, record sealing and vacating convictions are complex, and you may need interpretation to find out if your record is eligible. Speak with a Washington expungement and record sealing lawyer to see what options are available to you.