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FAQ: Vacating Your Criminal Convictions in Washington

Can convictions in Washington be expunged?

No.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, the terms “expungement” and “vacated” mean different things. 

Expungement means your records are physically destroyedVacated means your conviction is officially removed from your criminal record, which means it will not appear on a state or federal background check. 

In Washington, criminal convictions cannot by expunged.  Only non-conviction law enforcement records can be expunged.  Conviction records always exist in court databases, although vacated records are not visible to the public. 

Is a vacated conviction the same as a dismissed case in Washington?

Somewhat.

A vacated conviction is treated as if the conviction never occurred.  In that sense, it is identical to a dismissed criminal charge.

But a vacated conviction in other ways functions like a conviction.  In Washington, a criminal conviction—even if it is vacated—results in a loss of firearm rights.

What happens when a conviction is vacated in Washington?

The following things happen when your conviction is vacated:

  1. The court dismisses your case and removes your guilty finding
  2. You are released from all disabilities and restrictions that have resulted from the offense
  3. You may truthfully state under oath that you have never been convicted of the crime
  4. The conviction is removed from your Washington state criminal history and the court also sends your vacation order to the FBI

How long does a conviction stay on your record in Washington?

Potentially forever.

Unless you successfully vacate your conviction, your case will always appear on your criminal history record.  Even then, vacated convictions are still available to the courts and law enforcement for limited purposes, so in some ways they never really disappear. 

Is a deferred sentence the same as a conviction in Washington?

Yes

If you enter a deferred sentence, you plead guilty and the court puts you on probation, during which you have you complete certain conditions, such as paying fines, going to treatment, or staying away from certain people.  If you successfully completed probation, the court dismisses the case. 

You may reasonably think that a deferred sentence is not a conviction, but you would be wrong.

Under RCW 10.97.030, the Washington Criminal Records Privacy Act defines a "conviction" to include a criminal conviction or an adverse disposition to include "a dismissal entered after a period of probation, suspension, or deferral of sentence."

Can I vacate more than one misdemeanor conviction in Washington?

Yes.  You can vacate as many misdemeanors for which you are legally eligible.

Can I vacate more than one felony in my lifetime?

Yes.  Like misdemeanors, you can vacate as many felonies for which you are legally eligible. 

Can I vacate a Class A felony in Washington?

No.  You cannot vacate any class A felony in Washington.  The most common class A felonies are murder, robbery in the first degree, and burglary in the first degree.

Can I vacate a Class B felony in Washington?

Probably.  With certain exceptions, you can vacate any class B felony so long as you have been crime-free for a period of 5 years after you were convicted.

Can I vacate a Class C felony in Washington?

Very likely.  With certain exceptions, you can vacate any class C felony so long as you have been crime-free for a period of 5 years after you were convicted.

Does vacating my felony conviction restore my gun rights?

No.

In Washington, vacating your criminal conviction and restoring your gun rights are entirely separate procedures.  Restoring your gun rights will not clear your criminal your record, and vacating your conviction will not restore your right to possess a firearm.

To vacate your conviction, you have to go back to the court where you were convicted.  But to restore your gun rights, you have to file a new civil case in the appropriate superior court.

What is a certificate of discharge?

In Washington, a certificate of discharge restores your civil rights.  These include the right to vote and the right to serve on a jury.

The court will issue you a certificate of discharge when you complete all the conditions of your felony sentence.  This includes serving all prison time, successfully completing any treatment requirements, and paying off all your legal financial obligations. 

You cannot vacate a felony conviction until you have completed your sentence.  For this reason, you cannot vacate a felony conviction until the court has issued you a certificate of discharge.

In theory, the Department of Corrections is supposed to issue you a certificate of discharge as soon as you complete your sentence, but this regularly doesn't happen.  This means you will have to back to court and file a motion requesting the certificate. 

Can I vacate a sex conviction in Washington?

No. 

You generally cannot vacate any sex crimes in Washington.  The only exception is the misdemeanor crime of failure to register as a sex offender.

Under RCW 9A.44.132, you are guilty of a gross misdemeanor if you fail to register for a non-felony sex offense.

You cannot, however, vacate a conviction for felony failure to register.

Can I vacate a DUI conviction in Washington?

No.  You cannot vacate a DUI under any circumstances, no matter how much time has elapsed. 

You may, however, be able to vacate if you pleaded to a reduced charge, such as reckless driving or negligent driving in the first degree. 

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