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Washington passes new legislation making it easier to seal your juvenile criminal records

Posted by Brian C. Zuanich | Apr 06, 2020 | 0 Comments

Children are different than adults.  No surprise there.

That's why we forgive children for their crimes far more easily than we forgive adults.  Again, no surprise there. 

That's also why the process for sealing your juvenile court records in Washington is much easier than sealing your adult records.

And starting in 2021, it's going to get even easier.

House Bill 2794

On March 27, 2020, Governor Inslee signed House Bill 2794 into law.  In its simplest terms, House Bill 2794 streamlines the process for sealing juvenile court records and makes it easier for juvenile criminal offenders to seal their Washington court records.

This isn't meant to be a comprehensive deep-dive into the new law.  That will have to wait until the law becomes fully operational on January 1, 2021. 

In fact, we're not likely to know how the law is really working for several more months, because criminal justice laws don't just start working like a clock.  They have to be applied by judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys—humans with conflicting interests and interpretations. 

Let's consider this is 35,000 view from afar.

Current Law:  Court holds hearing once you turn 18 to determine whether to seal your juvenile criminal record.  Prosecutors and victims can object to sealing.  If party objects, the Court will hold a contested hearing and decide whether to seal. 

New Law:  No more contested hearing.  Once you turn 18 years old, the Court schedules a hearing. Assuming you meet the requirements of the statute, the Court will seal your records. 

Current Law:  If you have Class A felony, a sex offense, or other serious felony, the Court will schedule one of these hearings as a matter of course but not seal your records.  This is because you can't seal these crimes until you have spent time crime-free in the community.  You will have to file your own motion at the appropriate time. 

New LawThe Court will no longer schedule an administrative hearing as a matter of course if you've been convicted of one of these serious felonies.  You will still have to file your own motion to seal your records, but you'll no longer have to come to an extra hearing. 

Current Law:  If you're still on probation when the court holds an administrative hearing, then the court will not seal your records.

New LawIf the Court finds you are still on supervision with the probation department, then the Court will just continue the hearing to a future date when the court expects the juvenile will finish probation.  Then, at the new hearing, the Court will again determine eligibility, and either seal the records or continue the hearing again. 

Also (New Law)If restitution is the only reason that the Court refused to seal the records, then the juvenile can submit paperwork to the clerk's office proving that he or she has paid restitution.  Once the clerk verifies, the court will seal the records right then and there, without needing to schedule a new hearing. 

My initial analysis:  Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.  House Bill 2794 eliminates unnecessary hearings and only provides for hearings that will result in sealing orders being entered.

Of course, if you're a prosecutor or a crime victim, this efficiency comes at a potentially big cost.  The law has essentially gutted their right to object to sealing juvenile records. 

About Us:  Zuanich Law specializes in criminal and civil appeals, including DOL and family law appeals.  We also handle vacating, expunging, and sealing criminal records. Subscribe to our weekly criminal law newsletter.  

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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