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Can I restore my firearm rights in Washington if my record was sealed?

Posted by Brian C. Zuanich | Nov 07, 2020 | 0 Comments

If you're successful in getting your court record sealed, , the public cannot access anything about your case.  No one can stop by the courthouse and dig through your records and no one can go online and browse the court's electronic files.

Even better, your records will not show up on a state or federal background check.

You may think that restoring your firearm rights would be a lot easier after getting your court records sealed, but you would be wrong.  Why?

A sealed conviction is still a conviction

If the Court seals your conviction, does your conviction effectively disappear?  Or does a sealed conviction simply mean that the conviction is not accessible to the public?

Until just last year, the answer wasn't clear.  That is, until the Washington Supreme Court decided the issue in Barr v. Snohomish County Sheriff.  

Facts: When he was a juvenile, Jerry Barr was convicted of two class A felonies.  Barr also had several adult felony convictions.

In 2016, Barr successfully sealed his juvenile convictions.  (Unlike adult convictions, you can seal class A felonies, the most serious felonies in the state).  Barr also restored his firearm rights.

Naturally, Barr thought he was in the clear, so he went to his local sheriff's office and applied for a concealed pistol license (CPL).  He wasn't.  The sheriff denied Barr's application based on his sealed class A felonies, which showed up in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) federal database and the Washington State Patrol's criminal history database.

Barr went to Court, requesting the the judge order the Sheriff to issue him a CPL.  (Legally speaking, Barr asked the Court for a writ of mandaums, which means ordering a state agency to perform a legally required action).  The superior court denied Barr's application for a writ.  

Barr tried again, and this time the Court of Appeals ordered the superior court to issue the writ. Now the Sheriff appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court agreed with the Sheriff.

In Barr, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that a criminal conviction remains a criminal conviction, even if a conviction is later sealed.  "While the sealing order makes those convictions invisible to most people," the Court wrote, "they still do exist."

Also, the Court noted, under state law, a sealed conviction automatically gets un-sealed if you later get charged with a felony.  This proves that a sealed conviction is never really gone.

The Court then turned to federal law.  Under 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20), a conviction that has been "expunged" is not considered a conviction.  To expunge means to remove permanently, and for the reasons discussed above, a sealing order is not the equivalent to an expungement order.

About Us: Zuanich Law focuses on criminal and civil appeals and post-conviction motions, including restoring firearm rights, vacating convictions, and sealing court records.  We also handle personal injury law, family law, landlord-tenant law and a wide range of civil litigation issues. 

About the Author

Brian C. Zuanich

I am the managing partner at Zuanich Law. I am a former prosecutor and insurance defense attorney, and have practiced law in state and federal courts for over a decade.

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