Can You Vacate Your Conviction?

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

A conviction in Washington State carries a wide range of consequences, and you may have to vacate a conviction in order to find a job or rent an apartment.

If you live in Washington State you may have heard other terms such as expungement or sealing. However, what you are likely looking for is actually "Vacating", which means removing a court order from the publicly available database, which is called the Washington State Patrol Report (WATCH). You can pay $12 for a WATCH report by clicking here. This information is regularly pulled by private background check companies. You likely will not see this, you just never hear back from your potential employer or landlord.

You will need to stay on top of the court and the prosecutor because these cases may be a low priority compared to active cases. Besides, very old cases may have strange case numbers and the court clerk may not know if it should be scheduled under a criminal or civil docket. You may need to call back in a week or so to make sure your hearing has been scheduled.

Expungements can be made potentially for mistakes on WATCH. This is not a court process but rather a letter to the Washington State Patrol requesting to remove non-conviction data.

Sealing is making the court record inaccessible to the public. The court is unlikely to seal your record because it goes through a constitutional balancing test where the public's right to access information is deemed to be paramount. However, you may be able to seal a juvenile record. If you seal a record then you may need to vacate the record as well because the Washington State Patrol may not find out about the sealing.

If you are legally indigent then you may ask the court to waive the fines and vacate at the same date. That will usually backdate your fines as paid to the date that your other obligations were completed.

Generally, you will need a clean record for:

  • 10 years for class A and B felonies

  • 5 years for class C felonies

  • 3 years for misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors

However, you may not be able to be eligible if your charge was considered sexual, violent, or was driving while under the influence.

You cannot have an active restraining order, anti-harassment restraining orders, pending court orders, or active warrants. You will need to get those lifted before you will be eligible.

If you have 50 different case numbers then you will need to file one motion per case number. It is a messy process, but it is needed to close everything out. You are not filing a new case so you will not need to pay for a new case number.

Differed prosecution: Your judge may say, "There is nothing to vacate because I already dismissed the case." However, you can vacate anything on a WATCH report. As long as it is in the WATCH report it will show on background checks even if the court dismissed your case. Thus, after the judge signs your order to vacate, send a letter to the Washington State Patrol records department reminding them it was. You can also give the records department a call to see if the vacation is reflected in their system, and they may check to see if it has been pulled from the FBI's database.

For felonies, there is one twist, which is you will need a certificate of discharge. This paper is not usually automatically filed by the court and you will likely need to provide a motion with your other pleadings.

You can now vacate any misdemeanor as long as the conviction is eligible.

As always speak to an attorney before vacating your conviction.