How do you go about clearing your criminal records in Washington State? Recordkeeping corrections can be complicated because different rules apply depending upon whether you are dealing with arrest records held by law enforcement, case records maintained by the courts, or driving abstracts controlled by the Department of Licensing. The most common avenue for relief is petitioning the court to vacate a conviction. In 2019, the legislature passed SUBSTITUTE HOUSE BILL 1041. This changed the vacate rules by making more offenses vacate-eligible and by removing barriers to multiple vacate petitions. An experienced attorney can help determine whether you qualify and prepare the necessary documentation.
Note = In 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court decided State vs. Blake, which held unconstitutional Washington’s law against possession of controlled substances – RCW 69.50.4013. As a result, convictions for this offense are void and eligible to be vacated. Most city, county and state prosecutors have created an expedited system to address Blake vacates independently of the normal process. Check individual court websites for details.
Vacating a Washington State Criminal Record
If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense, then you cannot remove the record of arrest in Washington State. You may, however, qualify to vacate your conviction. When you vacate a conviction, a written request must be made to the court and you must meet certain requirements.
There are some offenses that are not eligible to be vacated, such as a DUI, and there are a variety of other requirements a person must meet. For example, for misdemeanors, at least three years must have passed following the end of any probationary period following conviction with no new arrests or convictions (for domestic violence offenses the law requires five years and for charges reduced from DUI, the wait includes 10 years from the original violation date with no new alcohol-related offenses). For felony convictions, the waiting period could be 5-10 years, depending on the offense.
A request to vacate a record is discretionary, meaning a judge does not have to grant it, even if a person otherwise qualifies under the statute. If a request to vacate is granted, the effect is that the previous guilty plea/finding is withdrawn and the charge is dismissed. Thereafter, a person can legally and honestly say they have not been convicted of the offense and would not need to disclose it as a conviction on future applications, etc.
Vacating an offense can be helpful, but it is not as perfect solution. For instance, the record of the case is not deleted. There will still be a court record of everything that occurred in the case unless the record is also sealed (see below). Also, the Department of Licensing does not recognize vacated convictions, so if the offense was a driving offense DOL will still maintain the conviction information on its own records.