Overview of Washington State Criminal Vacating and Record Sealing

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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In Washington State, criminal records are considered public information. A criminal record is created the moment you are arrested and fingerprinted. This record will always include information on how the arrest ultimately ended, i.e., in conviction, acquittal, dismissal, etc. To remove this record from public access, criminal records must be “sealed”. Sealing always leaves open the possibility of the records being unsealed.

Court records in Washington are maintained by the county clerk of each separate court. A court can only address requests made concerning records of cases filed in that court. If you were charged with crimes in several counties, you will make your request to have your record sealed in each court. Vacating, sealing, or destroying of a court record does not necessarily change or delete the records maintained by law enforcement agencies. Requests to change or delete records maintained by other agencies must be made to each agency separately.

In Washington, you have two options to remove court records from public viewing: (1) to have your court records sealed; (2) to have your court records vacated. Neither option is an expungement, where a court orders destroying information, including criminal records in files, computers, or other depositories. Washington does not have a statute for expungement in a criminal action against an adult.

There is a huge difference between sealing and vacating records. Sealing a record means to protect it from examination by the public and unauthorized court personnel. All or some parts of a record may be sealed. Sealing may be ordered for reasons of compelling privacy or if safety concerns outweigh the public interest in access to records. Evidence of the existence of a sealed file, unless protected by statute, remains available for viewing by the public on court indices, but is limited to the case number, names of the parties, and case type. A sealed court record may be ordered unsealed under certain circumstances.

Vacating a conviction occurs when the court clears the record of conviction and the fact that the offender has been convicted of the offense. A sealed record is not included in the offender’s criminal history record. Vacating releases you from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense. Once a conviction is vacated, the fact that you have been convicted of the offense will not be included in your criminal history for purposes of determining a sentence in any subsequent conviction. A person whose conviction has been vacated/sealed may truthfully state that they have never been convicted of that crime.

An offender may also apply to the sentencing court to set aside a conviction. The court may clear the record of conviction. Clearing a record means the fact of a conviction will not be included in a criminal history record. The information in the public court indices will be limited to the case number, case type, and name.

For more articles on clearing your criminal record in Washington, click on the following articles:

Eligibility for Clearing Adult Criminal Records in Washington

Application Process for Sealing/Vacating Adult Criminal Records in Washington

Eligibility for Sealing Juvenile Criminal Records

Do I Need an Attorney to File for a Sealing or Vacating of my Criminal Record in Washington State?

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