How to Expunge my Public Records in Washington

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It is not uncommon for people to want to take off or delete their public records from state or federal books. Technically, this is not possible as all public records are required by law to be maintained once filed. However, the State of Washington allows for a person’s record to be sealed.

The effect of this on the record is that it becomes recategorized as confidential and inaccessible to the public, except through a court order. Washington law also allows for public records to be expunged, i.e vacated or destroyed. An expungement order removes all relevant documentation of criminal convictions or arrests from both the state court system and the person’s record.

There are several reasons for which persons may want their public records deleted or categorized as unavailable. These include:

  • Protecting their privacy
  • Increasing their chances of finding suitable housings and employments
  • Protecting their financial information
  • Preventing their conviction or arrest history from being publicly available on background checks

What is a Public Record in Washington?

Washington public records include all documents in either electronic or print format that borders on the performance of a governmental function or the conduct of government. They are also referred to as documents filed by public officers or government agencies to be maintained and issued to the interested persons. Under Chapter 42.56 of the Revised Code of Washington: Public Records Act, public records are not considered confidential, unless otherwise exempted by law. With access to public records, individuals can monitor the operations and functioning of the government, while achieving a more efficient and transparent government.

Some common types of public records include vital records such as death records, birth records, and marriage records. Other types of public records include voting records, court proceedings, political campaign finance records, court records, criminal justice records, arrest records, etc.

Does Washington Allow Expungement?

The State of Washington allows certain records to be expunged, provided the conviction involved falls under what the state qualifies as eligible. Only individuals with “non-conviction data” qualify for state arrest records expungement or state criminal records expungement in Washington. When convictions are deleted, the term “vacation” is used instead.

How Do I Expunge My Criminal Record in Washington

The procedures involved in expunging a state criminal record depend on several factors including:

  • The type of record to be expunged or vacated and
  • The type of conviction involved.

Vacating Felonies

Under Revised Code of Washington § 9.94A.640, certain felony convictions may be vacated provided the offender is eligible for such. A discharged offender may request a felony conviction vacation from the sentencing court once eligibility has been ascertained. To do this:

  1. The offender will have to send the proper motion and proposed order to the prosecuting attorney’s office who in turn reviews the request to determine eligibility.
  2. Once the applicant’s request has been reviewed and agreed on, the Office will then sign off on the order so that it may be presented to the court. While it is not a must that the prosecuting office must back up the request or sign off on it, submitting an “agreed order” to the court can hasten up the process. This is so because the judge usually signs off agreed orders on “ex parte” without extra arguments.

On the other hand, if the court decides that it will rather hear an argument or the prosecutor refuses to sign off on the order, a motion must then be duly noted. Once this is carried out and the court concludes that the applicant is eligible for a felony vacation, the order may then be granted and served to the law enforcement agency in question.

The record of conviction will not be vacated if:

  • There are criminal charges still pending against the offender in any federal or state court
  • The offender has been convicted of a new crime
  • The offense is a class B felony and the applicant has had a new criminal conviction within the last ten years
  • The offense is a class C felony and the applicant has had a new criminal conviction within the last ten years
  • The offense is a class B felony and not up to ten years have passed since the latest of the offender’s release from confinement, community custody, or the sentencing date
  • The offense is a class C felony under Washington Statutes § 46.61.502 or  Revised Code of Washington (Revised Code of Washington) §  46.61.504(6), or
  • The offense is another class C felony under Washington Statutes § 46.61.502(6) or § 46.61.504(6), and less than five years have passed since the offender’s release from confinement, community custody, or the sentencing date.

Vacating Misdemeanors

The Revised Code of Washington § 9.96.060 guides the rules on misdemeanor vacation in Washington. A person convicted of a gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor who has completed all the terms of the sentence may apply to the court of record for a vacation of the conviction.

Excluding the offenses described in Revised Code of Washington § 9.96.060(2)(e), all other misdemeanors may be vacated once the applicant meets the requirement for a vacation. If an applicant satisfies the criterion for the conviction in question, the applicant can then go on to file for an expungement. These are the steps involved:

  1. File a motion by downloading and filling the requisite form needed to vacate their conviction record. The most common form for this is CrRLJ 09.0100 (Motion and Declaration for Order Vacating Conviction). An applicant being charged with a prostitution conviction must also complete the form CrRLJ 09.0120 (Prostitution Conviction Attachment). Vacation forms may be obtained from the courts, the Administrative Office of the Courts, or online through the Court Forms directory.

    Applicants are required to enquire about county-specific requirements by reading the local court rules applicable in their county, or by contacting the court clerk where the motion is to be filed.
  2. Once the motion, declaration form, and attachment have been completed and signed, the applicant can then go on to schedule a hearing for the motion.
    The applicant may schedule a hearing by contacting the court clerk of the court where the sentence was passed to choose a date and a time.
  3. The next step is to file the original motion, declaration form, notice document, and prostitution attachment, if applicable, and serve them to the court clerk. On the day all documents are filed, the applicant is also to ensure that the prosecuting attorney’s office of that jurisdiction is furnished with all the above-mentioned documents.

    Applicants may also use the CrRLJ 09.0150 (Notice of Hearing to Vacate Conviction) form to notify the prosecuting attorney's office of the hearing. If this form is used, the original must be filed with the clerk of the court in question. A copy of each document is also to be kept handy in case of future issues that may arise.
  4. Following this, the judge hears the motion for an order vacating conviction on the day slated for the hearing as they are granted the discretionary power to deny or accept the motion. Applicants are required to be present when this is carried out.
  5. If the motion is granted, the judge will complete the order vacating the conviction, and forward it to the local law enforcement agency and the Washington State Patrol.

Expunging Criminal History Records

The criteria outlined in the Revised Code of Washington (Revised Code of Washington) 10.97.060 provide the basis for the Washington State Patrol (WSP) to expunge a person’s criminal record.

Deletion of Criminal History Records (Non-Conviction Data)

In situations when arrests or charges do not result in convictions, the data may be deleted or expunged from the system completely. To expunge non-conviction data, applicants are required to submit copies of the court records and fingerprints and complete the WSP Request for Expungement/Deletion of Non-Conviction Records and mail to:

Washington State Patrol

ATTN: Criminal History Records Section

PO Box 42633

Olympia Washington 98504-2633

Under Revised Code of Washington § 10.97.060, a criminal history record, consisting of non-conviction data, filed with a law enforcement agency may be deleted at the request of the subject of the record if:

  • Not less than two years have passed since such record became non-conviction data as a result of favorable entry to the defendant, or at least three years have passed from the date of arrest.
  • The disposition was not a deferred prosecution or similar diversion of the alleged offender
  • The applicant has not had a prior conviction for a gross misdemeanor or felony
  • The applicant has not been charged or arrested for another crime during the intervening period

Law enforcement agencies have the authority to grant deletion requests. Once a person becomes officially eligible to have their non-conviction records deleted, the law enforcement agency may, by its discretion, remove the non-conviction data from their database.

Will my Expungement Record Show Up On A Background Check in Washington?

No. Once a person’s record has been expunged, all traces of such record are cleared. Hence, it becomes unavailable on both state and federal background checks. However, Non-FCRA compliant third-party background checks that had prior access to the petitioner’s court information may need to be contacted to update their databases.

How to Seal a Record in Washington

General Rule 15 (GR 15) guides the sealing of records in the State of Washington. Under GR 15, the following must be proven before sealing can occur:

  • Reasonable notice of hearing or motion to seal must have been given to all parties in the case
  • The court must determine that the reasonable privacy or safety concerns of the petitioner outweigh the public interest in accessing the court record.

Note that even after a record has been sealed, limited evidence about the conviction will still be available in the public court record. According to GR 15(3), “the information in the public court record will be restricted to the case type, the case number, the applicant's name, and the notation ‘vacated.’

The Washington Court of Appeals in the case of State of Washington v. Karen Waldon, 148 Wn. App 952, also provides five additional factors that must be met before a judge can seal a record.

Sealing Adult Court Records

To seal adult court records, provide all relevant documentation and serve the parties that have legal interest in being heard. This is a necessary step to qualify for a state arrest record sealing in Washington. Interested parties may choose to be heard and file a responsive briefing in that regard. The moving party is responsible for the burden of proof as all the requirements of State v. Waldon and GR 15 must be satisfied before the judge can grant the motion. If the moving party is unable to satisfy that burden, the motion would be denied.

Juvenile Record Sealing

There are two ways by which a juvenile record may be sealed. They include the administrative sealing process and the alternative sealing process.

Administrative Sealing Process

Under Revised Code of Washington §13.50.260, scheduled sealing hearings are to be held by the courts to administratively seal juvenile offenders’ court records. This law allows for juvenile records to be automatically sealed provided they fall into the eligibility spectrum of what the law demands. At the administrative hearing, the court will automatically grant the applicant’s motion to seal if:

  • The juvenile’s offense was not a sex offense, drug offense, or most serious offense
  • Every term and condition necessary for disposition has been met including the payment of all dues owed
  • The juvenile defendant is up to eighteen
  • Every probation term has been completed
  • Every period of confinement has been completed
  • There is no objection to sealing the file
  • There is no compelling reason not to seal the file

Alternative Sealing Process

Juvenile court records that are not subject to the administrative sealing process described above or were filed under Revised Code of Washington §13.40.100 are subject to the alternative sealing process of the state.

An applicant seeking to seal records must first obtain a complete record of their criminal history from the Juvenile Court or the County Clerk’s Office. The purpose of this is to ascertain eligibility based on the legal sealing requirements of the state. If the applicant meets the criteria stated, the next step is then to complete and file the Motion and Declaration to Seal Records of Juvenile Offender form.

Most counties in Washington require that the applicant schedules a hearing at the juvenile court to determine whether the record will be sealed or not. Once a hearing date has been fixed, the applicant may then complete the Notice of Respondent’s Motion to Seal Records of Juvenile Offender for the different cases mentioned in the Motion.

Following the filing of the Notice form, applicants may then go ahead to inform the various agencies involved in the case about the date of the hearing. The date-stamped copy of the Motion and Notice is to be mailed to the Washington State Patrol at the address below:

Washington State Patrol

Records Division

P.O. Box 42633

Olympia, Washington 98504

Applicants who had spent time in a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration facility are also required to mail copies of the Motions and Notices to:

Records Coordinator

Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

P.O. Box 45045

Olympia, Washington 98504

Copies of these documents are also to be mailed to the addresses of the County Prosecutor, the County Juvenile Court, and any other law enforcement agency that was involved with the case under consideration.

The hearing is usually carried out after all the documents have been mailed to their respective quarters. The judge may either decide to refuse or approve the Motion as well as sign the Order. If the judge grants the applicant’s request, the applicant may then send mail a copy of the certified order to every agency that received the notice.

Who Can See My Sealed Record in Washington?

Sealing records make such records unavailable for public assessment unless otherwise decided by court order. The only parties that may access sealed records are the court, law enforcement agencies, employers who rely on law enforcement background checks before hiring, and public employers such as criminal justice agencies and human service agencies.

How to Delete Bankruptcy Records in Washington

Bankruptcy cases like all court proceedings are regarded as public records and currently, the State of Washington makes no provision for deleting bankruptcy filing from court records. However, depending on the kind of bankruptcy (chapter 7 or chapter 13) that was filed, the maximum time that a bankruptcy record may be allowed to remain on a person’s credit report is seven to ten years. However, if there are errors or discrepancies in the record, bankruptcy may be removed before the expiration of the slated date under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Such an applicant may file a dispute to the credit bureaus using a credit card dispute letter to ascertain the source of the information documented on the credit report.

After this, follow up with the bankruptcy court administrator to verify if the credit bureau verified the details on the bankruptcy filing. Once the court responds with a negative statement, the applicant may then follow up with the credit bureaus asking them to delete the bankruptcy, since their claims were false and a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

What are Consumer Protection Laws in Washington?

Washington Consumer Protection Laws are the laws put in place to ensure that consumers are protected from unfair and deceptive acts and business practices. These laws enable consumers to seek retribution in the event of abusive business practices committed against them. Also, the Washington Privacy Act (WPA) imposes restrictions on the disclosure of consumers’ personal information held by private and public agencies. It also ensures that individuals’ privacy rights are not infringed on or abused. The WPA provides consumers with the right to:

  • Correct any inaccurate personal data held by the controllers
  • Request that the controllers delete their data
  • Request that controllers opt-out of the selling of their data to third parties
  • Confirm if the controllers are processing their data

How to Delete Lien Records in Washington

A person may get their lien history deleted from the records in any of these situations:

  • Once the amount owed to the creditors have been fully settled
  • When an error has been identified
  • Once the federal statute of limitation has expired

The first step towards removing a lien record is to file a lien release with the recorder where the lien was originally filed. The lien claimant upon receiving payment prepares and executes a release of all previously held lien rights.

For tax liens, once an applicant can provide proof ascertaining that all payments have been completed, the Internal Revenue Service may release the lien. A person may also request a tax lien withdrawal. A tax lien withdrawal may be used before an actual lien is imposed on the account. To apply for a tax lien withdrawal, the applicant should complete and submit Form 12277 (Application for Withdrawal of Filed Form 668(Y), Notice of Federal Tax Lien) to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS may then cancel the tax lien within 30 days of clearing the debt.

Anyone seeking to search for liens may contact the court clerk where the case was concluded.

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