Sealing a record prevents the public from being able to view it, though the record remains in government databases. The process of sealing a record in Washington is very different if your conviction was for an adult charge or a juvenile charge.
SEALING JUVENILE RECORDS:
Juvenile records can be sealed under Washington law as long as a sufficient amount of time passed without being convicted of a new charge. When a court seals a juvenile record it also vacates your conviction, meaning your conviction is actually removed and then the record is sealed. Even if you have been convicted of another charge as an adult or a juvenile, there is still a very good chance that a court will agree to seal your juvenile record.
Here are some basic guidelines to determine if you are eligible to have a juvenile record sealed:
-If you were convicted of a misdemeanor or Class B or C felony you must generally wait 2 years after your conviction with no new convictions.
-If you were convicted of a Class A felony you must generally wait 5 years. If you are convicted of a new charge during that time, the waiting period restarts.
-You also need to pay any restitution or fines outstanding.
-You must not currently be involved in a diversion agreement.
-Sex offenses may have other requirements as well.
Sealing a juvenile record is one of the most powerful tools that the law provides for record clearing, if you have a conviction from before the age of 18 you should definitely ask if you qualify for this procedure. There may be reasons why you are not eligible to seal your juvenile record and you should speak with an experienced attorney to determine whether you are likely to qualify.
SEALING ADULT MISDEMEANOR AND FELONY CHARGES:
Sealing adult records 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 reluctant to ever seal a record. There are, however, some steps you can take that will encourage the court to seal your record.
1) If possible, you should vacate your conviction first. Society is considered to have a great deal of interest in knowing that someone has been convicted of a crime, if that conviction no longer exists, then society has a substantially lower interest in the record.
2) Gather as much hard evidence of how the record is hurting you as is possible. If you are being denied employment, promotions, housing, loans, access to your children, or anything else because of your record, document it. Ask anyone who is denying you something because of your record for a letter stating that you are being denied as a result of the conviction. Judges have heard countless people come in and say that their records are unfairly affecting them, if you want your motion to succeed you need to show them something proving how you are being affected.
3) When a motion to seal a record is filed, courts will almost always schedule a hearing to consider that motion. You will be expected to defend your motion at that hearing. For this reason it is a very good idea to work with an experienced attorney in your attempt to seal your record. A knowledgeable attorney can craft a motion that meets all the courts requirements, and can defend that motion effectively at a hearing.
It is important to remember that sealing a record in Washington State does not restore your firearm rights if those were revoked as a part of your conviction. A separate motion to restore your firearm rights must be made to restore those, and you should speak with an attorney to make sure you qualify for firearm right restoration before attempting to make such a motion.