If you have an old criminal conviction on your record, you probably know that it can hold you back in life. But did you know that in many cases you can seal criminal records and all the disadvantages that go with having a prior conviction? At Findley & Rogers, we can help you seal your record in Washington and get a second chance at life.
Why Sealed Court Records Matter: The Economic Burdens of a Criminal Record
When you seal criminal records from your old conviction, what you’re doing is saving money and opening the door to better living conditions.
That’s because a criminal record is, more than anything else, an enormous economic burden. In simpler terms, it costs you money and worsens your quality of life. It makes life harder by making simple, everyday factors of life that much more difficult to achieve. Let’s look at a few of the ways this happens.
Applying for a Job
Perhaps the single most important reason to seal criminal records is the effect that a criminal history has on your ability to get a job.
Today, employers almost always run a background check on job applicants, even for contractor / 1099 positions. If you have a criminal background, while another applicant’s background check turns up clean, you’re probably not getting that job. That’s the hard truth. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how much experience you have — most employers are downright afraid of hiring anyone who doesn’t have a squeaky clean past.
Sealed court records can make the difference between a good job that utilizes your skills and gives you a path toward financial security, or a dead-end, low-paying job at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Searching for Rental Housing
Here’s another reason to seal criminal records: Employers aren’t the only ones who do background checks. Landlords do, too. If you’re looking for an apartment or house to rent, you have probably already experienced the fact that your unsealed court record is an enormous disadvantage. Many landlords and property management companies will flat-out refuse to rent to people with a criminal background.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a good tenant with a stable income. It doesn’t matter if you have good references. Unless you have sealed your court records, a criminal conviction is an immediate disqualification.
To add insult to injury, the landlords who do accept people with a criminal background are not always the nicest or most ethical people when it comes to the way they treat their tenants or how well they respond to maintenance requests and other rental issues.
When you seal criminal records from your past convictions, you greatly improve your odds of getting a rental housing application accepted. That means a better home for you and your family and better overall security in your living situation.
Accessing Credit & Financial Services
When you seal criminal records, you also get better access to credit and other financial services. As with job and rental applications, creditors will also sometimes run a background check on you. And when they see that criminal conviction, that’s a giant red flag, and sometimes an instant dealbreaker.
Credit is an important tool for many people to get ahead in life. Whether it’s a mortgage, financing for a car, a loan to start or expand your business, or simply a credit card, these financial services are a source of economic mobility.
Whether you have sealed court your records or not is also a big part of how society grades your trustworthiness with money. A good credit score will lead to you getting better deals down the road when it comes to loan approvals, interest rates, insurance rates, and more. When you seal criminal records from your past, you open the door to a much better financial future.
The Social Burdens of a Criminal Record
In addition to the economic hardships, there’s another way that having a criminal record hurts you: the social stigma. A lot of people tend to make blanket judgments about others, and being an “ex-con” will cause many people to make up their mind about you without ever giving you a fair chance to prove that you’re a good person with a lot to offer.
Being rejected like this does more than just hurt your good name. It makes life more frustrating and lonely. That’s why at Findley & Rogers, we think it’s always a good idea to seal criminal records from your prior convictions whenever you’re eligible to do so. Sealed court records prevent members of the community from readily finding out about your criminal past.
Tarnishing Your Public Image
Some folks like to live a private life, but others engage in their community. Maybe they join clubs or organizations. Maybe they get involved with the local school sports scene, or the local arts scene, or the business community, journalism, or even local politics. There are many different ways to engage!
Once word of it gets out of your conviction, however, it can permanently tarnish your reputation. You might be asked or forced to step down from whatever group you’re involved with. You might find yourself pushed out from some of your social circles. It’s a deeply upsetting and frustrating experience. That’s why you need to seal criminal records before they’re discovered.
Being Seen as Not Trustworthy
Just as employers, landlords, and financial institutions will look at your criminal conviction and decide that you’re not a good fit for them, the same thing can happen on a more informal level in your community. If your neighbors, friends, family, and other acquaintances learn about your past, some of them are going to stop trusting you.
This is just one more reason to seal criminal records. It doesn’t matter if your conviction is from the distant past and you’ve long moved on and become an upstanding citizen. Being an “ex-con” carries a very heavy stigma. So if you want to build relationships with your neighbors and others in the community, you need to present the best face you can, and that means you should seal criminal records of yours if at all possible.
How to Seal Your Record
What’s the First Step?
If you want to get your court records sealed, the first thing you should do is look into the possibility of getting your conviction vacated (or “expunged”) first. This is a different legal process that provides additional benefits, such as allowing you to lawfully say that you have not been convicted of the crime.
At Findley & Rogers, in most cases, we can help you clear your criminal record.
What Does It Mean to Seal Criminal Records?
“Sealing” a court record is similar to hiding it. It makes it much harder for the general public to find this information. Sealing a record doesn’t destroy the record entirely (the court still has the paperwork), and it doesn’t remove the conviction (you’re still legally guilty of the crime), but it means that most people won’t see that you have a conviction.
Sealed court records are no longer reported on background checks that pull information only from a court database. Once the court stops broadcasting your conviction, background reporting agencies will stop including it on any background checks that employers, landlords, financial companies, gun sellers, and other organizations may run on you. You’ll turn up clean.
Many background check companies will also access the Washington State Criminal History Repository, which would still report the conviction even after the case is sealed, which is why we strongly recommend vacating a conviction before attempting to seal it.
How to Seal Records
To seal criminal records, you must file the necessary paperwork with the court in the county where you were convicted. If you have convictions in more than one county, then you have to apply to seal your record separately in each of these counties. If you have a federal conviction, unfortunately the Federal government does not have a procedure available to seal records currently.
This is where the experienced attorneys at Findley & Rogers comes in. We can handle the paperwork for you, no matter where in Washington you live. You won’t have to show up at court, and you won’t have to worry about making a mistake on the forms or in the legal process.
Why Is Sealing Records Allowed?
The whole point of a criminal record is to let society know that you broke the law. The idea is that people have a vested interest in knowing if they’re dealing with a criminal. However, the courts also understand that a criminal history can pose a great deal of hardship on an individual, which is why they allow people to seal criminal records in some instances, your chances of success at sealing a record improve based on how long it has been since the case occurred, the amount of hardship that you can prove results from the court record, and whether you have been able to vacate the conviction in the case.
What Are the Eligibility Requirements?
The eligibility requirements for sealing your record are fairly generous. Any record can technically be sealed. But the court will consider many factors in deciding whether or not to seal a case. Among other things, the court will consdier whether:
- You have already had your conviction vacated.
- You can prove to the court that your record poses undue hardship that outweighs the public interest in knowing about your conviction.
- How long it has been since the case occurred.
- Whether you have been convicted or charged with anything else.
Sealing Juvenile Records
So far we’ve been talking about sealing an adult criminal conviction. There is a separate process for sealing juvenile records in Washington state. If your conviction happened as a juvenile, we’ll be happy to help you seal those criminal records, too.
Call Findley & Rogers Today!
A criminal history makes you look bad on paper. Sealed court records solve that problem. At Findley & Rogers, we believe that once you’ve paid back your debt to society, there’s no reason you should have to suffer financially. And state law agrees, which is why Washington has a legal process for you to seal your records.
Contact Findley & Rogers today for a free consultation to discuss your situation. We’ll be happy to explain things in more detail and answer your questions. Seal criminal records today to get your life back.