FAQ: Criminal Record Holding You Back in Washington State?
What does it mean to expunge a record? So expungement is a term that people often use generally for taking care of or cleaning up a record, but there are actually different words that mean different things depending on what your particular need is for your record. For example, if someone was arrested but then nothing ever came from it in terms of a conviction, or you got a deal that did not result in a conviction, you may not have a conviction on your record but you still have a conviction on your record, so the process then would be to expunge the arrest with Washington State Patrol.
Someone who, for example, has been convicted of a theft and has been having a hard time getting job opportunities because of that conviction, the process in that case would be a motion to vacate. Vacating refers to the conviction itself and the courts, whereas expungement generally refers to the arrest record, however, people do tend to use the words interchangeably, which is a lot of the source for the confusion.
What are the benefits of doing this process? The legislature just, in 2019, changed the law to make more people eligible to vacate their cases and they also clarified the specific benefits of vacating a criminal conviction. The law and the orders specifically state now that you can state for all purposes, including housing and employment, that you have not been convicted of the crime. Once the conviction has been vacated, it gets sent off to the Washington State Patrol, and they are the repository of records, or record holders, and then they disseminate that to the FBI in order to have them update their official records as well.
So, it can open a lot of doors for people in terms of employment. I’ve had clients do it when they are having a hard time traveling, for visas, or other immigration issues. Sometimes people will consider vacating their record for employment, school, and because they are just generally ready to move past things.
How long does this process take? It depends. I have gotten cases through in as quick as a few weeks to a month and then I have had other courts where the clerks and judges sit on my motions for a period of time and I have to consistently follow-up. There are certain things with timing that are a little outside my control, but I try and get all the work on my end done in as efficient of a timeframe as possible.
Once it’s off to the courts, it can take a little while, like a week or so, to get a hearing set. Once a hearing is set it is generally for about a month out or so. Then the processing time once it has been granted is about a month to get it all updated with the Washington State Patrol and FBI. I would say overall the process takes maybe 2-4 months or 3-6 months for King County and Seattle, which tend to be slower.
Do I have to be there for this to happen? So the good thing about these records and expunging and vacating it is generally a paperwork process and something that I can do on your behalf. Once I get the information that I need from you, I start by pulling the records and preparing the paperwork, and then I send it over to you for review and an easy electronic signature. Then, I send it over to the prosecutor and see if we can do it by agreement.
Oftentimes, on these cases there isn’t even a hearing; I am able to just get them handled on agreement of the parties. Sometimes there is a court hearing, lately they have been handled over Zoom if they have been happening at all. They are generally not terribly contentious and you do not need to be present for them. I handle it.
Does this apply to only simple small cases? What if I have a more serious case or a felony? You can absolutely vacate more serious cases. You can vacate felonies. There are a number of different case types that can be vacated. The change in law in 2019 opened the door even further. People who have DUIs that have been amended down to reckless or negligent driving are eligible to vacate after a period of time. People that have even been convicted of non-violent felonies, even in the first degree, such as theft first degree, those can be vacated as well. The court does have some restrictions when it comes to child sex cases and some other things, but I would advise calling me for a consult.
What if I have an arrest but not a conviction on my record? When can I expunge the arrest? Assuming you were arrested and nothing ever came from it conviction wise, either no charges were filed or they were filed and dismissed it, you may be eligible to expunge your arrest with Washington State Patrol either 3 years from the date of the arrest or 2 years from when it became non-conviction data, whichever is sooner. So if it got filed and in court the next morning they heard it said were not going to go forward with this it would be 2 years from that date or 3 years from the date of the arrest, whichever is sooner.
What if I still owe fines? On a case you are trying to vacate if you still owe fines, that change in law in 2019 created more flexibility in terms of legal financial obligations. You may be able to backdate the payment and potentially even negotiate away some of the fines. For example, I had a client with something like $30,000 in remaining restitution but $27,000 was interest and the court and prosecutor were willing to agree to waive all that interest.
When should I hire a lawyer to help me with this process? When you think you may have a potential issue. I offer free consultations so you can give my office a call and I can talk with you about your case to see if it’s something that looks like we could vacate or expunge. If it gets really in-depth and there are records that I need to pull in order to advise, sometimes I do charge a consultation fee, but most consultations can be done over the phone and for free and I can let you know whether or not you would likely qualify, what any potential issues might be, and our timeline going forward.
How much does it cost? So, I offer reasonable flat rates. I don’t do hourly billing, you do not get any surprise bills in the mail.
If I’m not in the state anymore is that a problem? Nope, no problem at all. I’ve even done this with clients that are international. I can send things in the mail and do electronic signatures. You do not need to appear for your hearing. You essentially just hire me to handle it and then I take it from there.