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Past Criminal History? You Do Have Options

Posted Tuesday, April 7, 2020 by Andrew Charles Huff

A past criminal conviction can keep you from a new job, financial assistance or any other opportunity that a previous brush with the law can hold you back from. Many folks have called me seeking help when a past conviction kept them from a new opportunity. Fortunately, there are now more options available than before to get rid of past mistakes that can keep you from moving forward. A criminal record can affect a career because most employers will run a criminal background check on prospective employees. The ability to obtain a professional license may also be jeopardized by a criminal record. Many people come to realize that having their record clean is a necessary step to advance their career. Even for those without career concerns, having a clean record can be emotionally freeing to know that any past mistakes are no longer a part of their lives.

Under the recently passed “New Hope Act,” substantial changes have been made allowing those with some criminal past to clean up their backgrounds and remove past convictions. Under these changes, more felony convictions can be vacated; you can (likely) vacate felony convictions sooner; and you can vacate more than one misdemeanor conviction.

Types of Relief

There are several ways our state laws allow people to clear past convictions or criminal charges from their records. These types of relief all require an appearance in court and requesting a judge sign a court order. They are as follows:

Vacate crime: Most misdemeanor convictions can be vacated upon filing a written request and supporting documents. The exceptions include convictions for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and domestic violence. Recent changes to the law allow more misdemeanor convictions to be vacated than before, even if you have more than one conviction.

For those with past felony convictions, these recent changes expand the list of felonies that can be vacated. One example is a conviction for “Assault in the Third Degree” under RCW 9A.36.031. This statute criminalizes assaulting among others various public officials such as transit drivers, security officers, law enforcement, firefighters and medical personnel. But if convicted under the negligence prong of this statute, a person can vacate this conviction in a minimum of five years if there are no further convictions. An example of a recent case involved a bar fight where the victim was injured after drinking and a subsequent scuffle in the parking lot. Because the client pled guilty to Assault 3rd Degree under this negligence prong, they are eligible to have this prior conviction completely vacated and removed from their record in about five years. Vacating a conviction allows a person to legally and honestly state that they have never been convicted of it.

Expunge criminal record: For “non-conviction data” – for instance a record of an arrest – expungement may be an option after two years have passed.

Seal record: It may also be possible for other information to be sealed from the public record. For instance, if there is some matter of public record that you find damaging to your reputation or privacy, it may be possible to have that information removed from public accessibility.

Once a criminal conviction has been vacated, several important benefits accrue to the individual. The person is released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense and the fact the person has been convicted of the offense shall not be included in the person’s criminal history for purposes of determining a sentence in any subsequent conviction. For all purposes, including responding to questions on employment or housing applications, a person whose conviction has been vacated may state that he or she has never been convicted of that crime. A conviction that has been vacated may not be disseminated or disclosed by the Washington State Patrol or local law enforcement agency, except it may be disclosed to other criminal justice enforcement agencies.

If you have a prior conviction on your record and want to see if you can start fresh, please call me directly at 206-729-3477 and let’s talk.

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