What’s the difference between expunging , vacating, & sealing a criminal record?

A person’s criminal record can easily be found on the internet. The Washington State Patrol (WSP), Identification and Criminal History Section is considered the official gatekeeper of criminal records in Washington State. Convictions and arrests are made available on a WATCH report on the WSP website at https://watch.wsp.wa.gov/.

A criminal conviction can have severe consequences beyond jail time if a person does not expunge, vacate or seal his record. A record can make you ineligible for employment. A crime “against a person” or crimes relating to financial exploitation will prohibit employment at nursing homes, child care facilities, boarding homes, school, hospitals, or any other place with a vulnerable population. A criminal record can also impact a person’s access to the following:

  1. Private and public housing
  2. Voting rights
  3. Student loans
  4. Military service
  5. Traveling to Canada
  6. Firearm possession
  7. Legal status to remain in the United States

In some cases, the stigma of an arrest or conviction maybe reversed through expunging, vacating, or sealing a charge. It’s important to understand the difference between the three and the eligibility requirements.

The differences between Expunging, Vacating, and Sealing are as follows:

  • Expunging a Record: Expunging a record means the arrest information will be physically destroyed. The Washington State Patrol is the only agency that will expunge arrest records. However, to be eligible the arrest must not have resulted in an “adverse action” against the arrestee. Adverse actions include convictions, bail forfeitures, deferred sentences, and stipulated order of continuance even if the case is dismissed after completing affirmative conditions. Essentially, only arrests that are never filed in court, acquittals, or outright dismissals can be expunged.
  • Sealing a Record: The actual court file is sealed and limited information is available on the Judicial Information System (JIS) and Superior Court Management Information System (SCOMIS). JIS and SCOMIS databases are used by Court staff and the public to review criminal records. However, a sealed record does not restrict the release of information that is already on the internet or part of a private database.
  • Vacating a Conviction: The Court will withdraw the guilty plea and dismiss the charge. The WSP will delete the record from the WATCH report and you can officially say you have never been convicted of the offense. However, private companies maintain databases without updating their records and may continue to disseminate incorrect convictions on the internet. We encourage Clients to send a letter requesting they update their database or face civil liability.

Attorney Sheehy has successfully vacated, expunged, and sealed files across Washington State. Contact him for an honest assessment and whether it’s worth pursuing post-conviction relief. Contact the Law Office of Michael P. Sheehy to determine your eligibility.

2 Replies to “What’s the difference between expunging , vacating, & sealing a criminal record?”

  1. I have vacated a felony but it still shows when background check companies pull court records and this is the only crime I have ever had. Is it possible to seal the file so this no longer comes up? I hold a professional license and would really like to go back into my career field without any hindrance. If this can be done please let me know how much you would charge? Thanks and have a great day.

  2. I’ve never been arrested before but that doesn’t mean that I’m perfect. There are some tickets I’ve got in the past that would be nice if they were expunged. As you said, it would be best to go with an attorney or a lawyer as they would know best as what action to take.

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