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What is the Difference Between Expunged and Sealed Records?

Comments Off on What is the Difference Between Expunged and Sealed Records?

A criminal record can impact your life for a very long time after conviction. In Washington state, you may have the right to remove your criminal record from public view. To request this privacy, you will need to know the difference between expunged and sealed records.

What Does It Mean to Have Your Record Sealed?

Washington state considers criminal records to be public information. The state creates the record as soon as the police arrest you and take your fingerprints. Your criminal record will contain information about your arrest, including how your case ultimately concluded—whether through conviction, acquittal, or dismissal.

To remove this record from public view, you will need to request that the court seals it. However, a sealed record does not mean that the record disappears completely. Anytime a court seals a criminal record, it can also unseal it. The record simply becomes inaccessible to the public; however, someone could submit a court order to view it.

The county clerk of each court in Washington is responsible for maintaining records for cases filed in that specific court, including criminal records. To seal your record, you will need to submit a request to the clerk of the court that oversaw your case. If you want to seal records related to multiple offenses, you will need to submit requests to each court separately.

What Is an Expungement?

An expungement is a court process that deletes a criminal record completely and prevents anyone from viewing the record, including court officials and prosecutors. Unlike the sealing process, an expungement order requires the court to treat the crime as if it never happened. If you can successfully petition for expungement, the record disappears from public view and your criminal history.

Who Is Eligible for Expungement?

Only certain individuals are eligible for expungement in Washington state. According to RCW 10.97.060, the state can only expunge non-conviction criminal records. Non-conviction records often involve cases that end in acquittal or dismissal, or cases where the police arrested and investigated you but did not file charges. You can file for expungement if you have a non-conviction criminal record and at least two years have passed since the arrest.

If you went to prison, paid a fine, or were subject to another penalty, you are likely not eligible to petition for expungement. If you completed a probation or diversion program, were found not guilty by reason of insanity, or the court dismissed your case because you were not competent enough to stand trial, you are also ineligible for expungement.

How to Remove a Criminal Conviction in Washington

Many people who are not eligible for expungement could choose to vacate the record instead. When a court vacates a record, it essentially reverses and dismisses the conviction. As a result, you can say that you were never convicted. You will need to meet the following criteria to be eligible to vacate a conviction.

  • You do not have any pending charges or new convictions.
  • You did not commit a DUI offense or a sex offense involving children.
  • You have not been the subject of a restraining order within the last five years.
  • You paid all fines, court fees, and restitution.
  • At least three years have passed since the misdemeanor conviction or final payment. For Class B felonies, the waiting period is 10 years. For Class C felonies, you will need to wait 5 years.

If you need assistance sealing, expunging, or vacating a criminal record, a defense attorney can help. Contact your lawyer as soon as possible to begin assembling your petition.

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