Washington Expungement Law
In Washington, there are three ways you clear your criminal record. Criminal records can be vacated, expunged, or sealed.
This area of law is complicated. The terms “expunged,” “vacated,” or “sealed' have very different meanings. There are also two different types of records in Washington: “criminal history records” and “court records.” The law also treats adult offenders and juvenile offenders differently.
The law also underwent a massive change recently. In July 2019, Governor Inslee signed into law the New Hope Act, which makes it easier to vacate your felony and misdemeanor convictions.
Unfortunately, the information you find online isn't always accurate, even on many law firm websites.
Vacating, Expunging, or Sealing Your Records
Vacating Criminal Convictions
Vacating a conviction means your conviction is officially removed from your criminal record. Vacated convictions will not appear on any Washington State Patrol or any FBI background checks.
Once your conviction is vacated, you can legally say that you were never convicted of that crime on an employment or housing application.
Certain convictions, however, cannot be vacated. These include violent felonies, most sex offenses, and DUI convictions.
Expunging Criminal Records
Expungement means your criminal record is physically destroyed and all electronic records are deleted.
In Washington, only non-conviction records can be expunged. This usually refers to one of three cases:
- Police investigated you but charges were never filed
- The State filed criminal charges but ultimately dismissed the case
- A jury or judge found you not guilty after trial
To expunge your criminal record, you must wait three years after the date of your arrest if no charges were filed or two years from the date your charges were dismissed or you were found not guilty. You also cannot have been arrested or charged with another crime during this time period.
The Washington State Patrol is the only state agency that will expunge arrest records.
If your court record is sealed, no one can inspect or access your court records--both the physical files and electronic records.
Sealing your court record also prevents these records from appearing on a WSP background check.
You must file a motion with the Court to seal your records. Sealing is discretionary. In deciding whether to seal your record, a judge will weigh your privacy interests against the public's interest in keeping the file open, among other factors.