Vacating the record of a criminal conviction is only one step in the process of clearing your criminal history. Vacating a conviction officially restores a person’s ability to claim he or she was not convicted of the crime. Unfortunately, evidence of the record that led to the vacation, including the initial conviction, will remain in state and possibly private databases. By having the record sealed, the government is prevented from making the record available to the public. If the record cannot be sealed, potential employers, credit agencies, and even the general public at large will have access to the complete history. The only way to avoid this situation and minimize that possibility is to have the record sealed and removed from public view. The lawyers at Milios Defense can help you seal your criminal history records.
Washington Court Rule Regarding Record Sealing
The court rule that applies to the sealing of records in Washington is General Rule 15. GR 15 sets out the criteria by which a judge can order court records sealed, redacted, or destroyed. This rule requires that specific elements must be proven prior to sealing. The first is that reasonable notice of the motion to seal must be given to all the parties to the case. This means that prior to a court ordering records to be sealed it must be shown that the victim and probation department have had an opportunity to be heard.
Second, the court must find that the reasonable privacy concerns of the individual making the request outweigh the public interest in keeping the record open. There are several specific factors that the rule sets forth which are considered to be sufficient to make this determination.
Be aware that even once a record of a vacated criminal charge has been sealed, evidence can still be found of the event’s existence. Pursuant to GR 15(3), the information in the public court record will be limited to “the case number, case type with the notation ‘DV’ if the case involved domestic violence, the defendants name, and the notation ‘vacated’.”
Record Sealing Caselaw in Washington
GR 15 is no longer the final authority on what must be shown before a record can be officially sealed. In the case of State of Washington v. Karen Waldon, 148 Wn. App 952 (Wash. App., 2009), the Washington Court of Appeals ruled that five additional factors must be present before a record can be sealed:
- A serious or imminent threat to an important interest.
- Anyone present during the motion to seal be given the opportunity to object.
- Sealing the record must be the least restrictive means available to protecting the applicant’s interests.
- The competing interests of the public and the defendant must be weighed.
- The order should be no broader than necessary to serve its purpose.
This means that in addition to complying with GR 15, compliance with the above five factors must be proven as well. While this does potentially make it more difficult to secure in order to seal, in most cases the reasons for the request to seal already comply with the above factors.
Washington Record Sealing Procedure
In order to pursue a motion to seal criminal records, a petition to seal must be filed in the appropriate court of jurisdiction with all supporting documentation, and then served on any parties that have a legal interest in being heard. Depending on the jurisdiction, an argument date will be noted. All interested parties will have an opportunity to file a responsive briefing and to be heard. At the hearing, it is the burden of the moving party to prove that the requirements of GR 15 and State v. Waldon have been satisfied. If the moving party satisfies that burden, the records would be sealed in accordance with GR 15. Otherwise the motion would be denied.
At Milios Defense we have been helping clients seal their criminal records from public view for 25 years. The process can be daunting and the end goal of sealing criminal records that had been previously vacated is far from automatic. There are, however, judges that are sympathetic to the reasons someone would need to have a vacated record of conviction sealed and who more readily agree that allowing the public to see that a conviction once existed is more harmful to the individual than necessary to the public. It has always been our view that if a record is eligible to be sealed, the effort is worth the risk. Should you have any questions about this process contact us for consultation.