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Expunging and Vacating Records

Washington State understands that getting convicted is not the last chapter in a person’s story.  The law provides qualifying individuals the opportunity to vacate or expunge criminal history information.

Many people confuse “vacate” and “expunge.”  The terms are very different under Washington law, with different impacts on a person’s record.

A person who has had their record vacated is allowed to state for all purposes under Washington law that they were not convicted of the crime.  The process is outlined in RCW 9.96.060 for misdemeanor offenses and in RCW 9.94A.640 for felony offenses.

For misdemeanor offenses (RCW 9.96.060):

  1. Permitting the applicant to withdraw the applicant’s plea of guilty and to enter a plea of not guilty or, if the applicant has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, allowing the Court to set aside the verdict of guilty; and
  2. The Court dismissing the information, indictment, complaint, or citation against the applicant and vacating the judgment and sentence

For felony offenses (RCW 9.94A.640):

  1. Permitting the applicant to withdraw the applicant’s plea of guilty and to enter a plea of not guilty or, if the applicant has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, allowing the Court to set aside the verdict of guilty; and
  2. The Court dismissing the information or indictment against the applicant

Expungement is really just a fancy way of saying deletion. RCW 10.97.060 allows non-conviction data to be deleted from criminal justice agency files so that information does not appear in searches.  These databases are usually among the ones checked during background investigations performed by employers and state agencies.