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Sealing your criminal record prevents anyone from accessing the court records regarding your case. This can be helpful for employment applications and apartment rental applications among many other things. Sealing a criminal record in Washington State can also help you move on from the past and take control of your life.
Sealing records in Washington State is a very different procedure than sealing juvenile records. There are no waiting periods that must be met before a court may seal an adult criminal record, instead the court is supposed to employ a balancing test to determine if the hardship that the record is causing you is sufficient to outweigh society’s interest in having access to that record. This decision is 100% at the discretion of the court, and many courts are hesitant about sealing a criminal record. There are, however, some steps you can take that will encourage the court to seal your criminal record.
Vacating Your Conviction
If possible, before attempting to seal your criminal record, you should vacate or “expunge” criminal records of any prior convictions.
State and federal law assume that, if you have a past conviction, this is important information the public has an interest in knowing. By vacating your conviction, you effectively wipe the slate clean which helps tilt the balance in your favor when you ask the court to seal your criminal record.
Findley & Rogers can help you expunge criminal records of any adult or juvenile convictions.
Gathering Evidence to Make Your Case
When you ask the court to seal a criminal record, the judge will want to see evidence that your record is causing you hardships. It is not usually enough to claim hardship; you must also provide evidence establishing your hardship.
This means you should collect evidence or ask an expungement attorney to help you start the process. If you were rejected for a rental, passed over for a job or a promotion, denied custody rights, etc., you should ask for written statements saying that you lost out on these opportunities because of your criminal convictions.
Sealing a criminal record won’t restore firearm rights lost as part of your conviction. You’ll need to file a separate motion for that which our experienced gun rights lawyers can also help you with.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sealing Adult Records in Washington State
No, sealing records in Washington State is a separate process from expungement.
(Note: In Washington, expungement is formally known as “vacating” your record. If you ever see that term, it refers to what most people call expungement.)
Sealing a criminal record makes it so that members of the general public cannot view your record, even if they come to the courthouse. Your criminal history will still exist, but it will be private.
Expunging a criminal conviction or other negative marks on your legal record (such as arrest records) removes those items from your record, as though they never happened.
You can pursue either or both! In fact, there are many circumstances where we recommend both.
- Expungement is the far more common of the two practices and is much easier to achieve for most people. However, while expungement will allow you to pass a background check that requires no convictions, the record of your criminal history, including the original offenses and their expungement, will still exist in files at the court, and members of the public who perform a thorough check will still be able to view those.
- Sealing records in Washington State prevents the general public from looking at your record even if they come to the courthouse. This provides an extra layer of privacy and mental wellbeing, but it can be a very difficult motion to win, so while we recommend this in some cases, you should carefully consider the risks of such a motion before proceeding.
Depending on your particular situation, we will be able to recommend the best course of action for you during your free consultation.
There is no automatic pathway for sealing a criminal record in Washington State. State law assumes that there is a benefit to society by allowing court records to be publicly viewable.
What this means is that, to seal your record, you’ll have to go to court and convince them that your situation is special and that your right to privacy or safety outweighs the public interest.
Having said that, the good news is that the vast majority of people with a criminal record can potentially petition the court to have their records sealed.
- This is why you need an experienced criminal law attorney, like a member of our team at Findley & Rogers. We will be your guide and advocate through the legal process of sealing records in Washington State!