Spokane criminal defense lawyers are often asked, “Can I get this off my record?” What these people are really asking is “Can I get my record expunged?” In short, the answer is maybe. There are a few ways to qualify, but not everyone can get his or her records expunged. To understand this better, let's take a look at what expungements are and are not.
What an Expungement is and is Not
When someone seeks to expunge a record, this does not mean that the event never happened. It does not mean removing record of a conviction. It does not mean the public will not be able to see the arrest or court filings. It does none of these things.
On the other hand, an expungement is simply used to remove “non-conviction” data from your criminal record. This is the confusing part for many Washingtonians. If you were not convicted, then expungement is the tool you use to remove the record for the sake of fairness and justice. This applies when a person was arrested and charged, yet the prosecutor decided not to pursue the case. It can also apply when there was an arrest but no charges were brought or when a case was won.
In either case, there is an arrest record out there and it can hurt your chances of getting a job or obtaining housing. Getting these types of records expunged requires applying for the expungement through the Washington State Patrol.
Am I Eligible for Expungement?
There are just three simple requirements to get an expungement. Remember not all people will qualify.
(1) You are seeking to remove solely “non-conviction” data, as explained above; and
(2) You have not been arrested for any crimes since the date of the arrest you seek to expunge; and
(3) The matter is no longer pending in court and it has been at least three years since the arrest; or it has been at least two years since it became “non-conviction” data.
What if I Do Not Qualify?
Many people confuse expungement with sealing or vacating a conviction record. This is a much more difficult and complex process. Vacating a record means asking the court to say you were not convicted. You must file a request asking the court to decide the matter. No judge is required to vacate the record, so you and your attorney must present a strong case why justice warrants it. You can only do it once in a lifetime and it does not remove the records. The world can still see what happened. However, once vacated, the record will no longer show a conviction but rather, it will show that the charges were simply dismissed. Again, this is not a perfect solution, but it certainly can help.
You can also seek to have a record sealed. This is an equally difficult process that can take a lot of time and patience to achieve. Just as with vacating records, no judge is required to grant the request. However, this is the only way to truly “remove” or hide the information from the world. Even with a sealed record, some government clearances, professional licensure applications, and other character-related inquiries, you may have to report the matter.
How Do I Start the Process?
The Washington State Court System provides forms that you can use to start the process yourself. However, it is best to seek the assistance of a skilled attorney. If you have any questions about how to get started fixing your criminal history, the West Law Office can help you decide which option is right for you.