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Expunging Criminal Records

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A criminal record can have a severe impact on our lives. Criminal histories make it difficult to find employment or a place to live, to build and maintain interpersonal relationships, and to overcome the stigma that comes with arrest.

Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to ask a court to expunge any charges you may have on your record, as long as they did not result in conviction. If you wish to remove an arrest that you received a conviction for, you will need to apply to vacate the record.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged?

Under Washington law, you can either expunge or vacate certain charges on your criminal record. In general, you can expunge your record if the charge you want to expunge did not result in a conviction. If a court convicted you of a crime and you want to remove the record, you can apply to vacate that conviction.

These processes apply to both felonies and misdemeanors. However, the circumstances that surround your charges or convictions must meet certain criteria before you can ask a court to expunge your record.

  • If police arrested you, gave you a citation, or issued a warrant for your arrest but failed to file charges against you, there is a good chance that you can expunge your record. You have to wait three years from the date of your arrest to apply.
  • If charges were filed against you, but the courts did not convict you, you could expunge your record two years from the date that you resolved the charges.

Other circumstances may prevent you from qualifying for expungement. If you have a prior conviction for a felony or gross misdemeanor or you committed another crime during your waiting period, the court may deny your application. In addition, you may not qualify for expungement if the prosecutors deferred or diverted your case.

You cannot expunge a criminal conviction in Washington — you will need to apply to vacate that record. Vacating your criminal record will retroactively dismiss your case, and Washington only allows you to vacate one case in your lifetime.

How to Expunge a Criminal Record in Washington State

If you wish to expunge an arrest or other charge that did not result in conviction, you will need to submit an application to the Washington State Patrol after your waiting period ends. In addition to the application, you will need to submit your fingerprints and a copy of the court record you want to expunge.

If the Washington State Patrol chooses to approve your expungement, the entity will remove records of the arrest in question. However, your case may still appear in public court records and records at the Department of Licensing.

Why You Need a Lawyer to Expunge Your Record

If you are applying to expunge your criminal record, hiring a criminal defense attorney to represent you in the process is an important step. The expungement process can be complex and lengthy, and your attorney can provide a number of benefits for your case.

  • Your attorney will have significant experience working through the expungement process and will be able to guide you through each step, helping you avoid unnecessary errors or delays.
  • Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may not be eligible for expungement. Your attorney can assess your record and advise you on whether expungement is possible and which pathway is appropriate for you.
  • Expunging a criminal record does not remove all traces of the charge that is available to the public. If you want to explore your legal options outside of expungement in regards to your record, your lawyer will be able to assist you.

With a lawyer on your side, you can increase your chances of submitting a successful expungement application. Contact a defense lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your case and begin strategizing your next steps.

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