General Rule 15

General Rule 15 (also known as GR 15) is the Supreme Court rule that lays out the rules and standards for sealing a court file. This page lists the current verision of GR 15 as well as the old version of GR 15 If you are interested in sealing records, you need to make sure to read the Waldon decision which may effectively add requirements to GR 15.

Current Version of GR 15:

The Washington Supreme Court has changed GR 15 to make it easier to seal court records The most important proposal is listed below at section (c)(2)(C). It appears that the Supreme Court is finally changing the court rules to reflect the computerized society we live in. These changes were effective in July of 2006.

Here are the changes:

(a) Purpose and Scope of the Rule. This rule sets forth a uniform procedure for the destruction, sealing, and redaction of court records. This rule applies to all court records, regardless of the physical form of the court record, the method of recording the court record, or the method of storage of the court record.

(b) Definitions

  1. “Court file” means the pleadings, orders, and other papers filed with the clerk of the court under a single or consolidated cause number(s).
  2. “Court record” is defined in GR 31(c)(4).
  3. Destroy. To destroy means to obliterate a court record or file in such a way as to make it permanently irretrievable. A motion or order to expunge shall be treated as a motion or order to destroy.
  4. Seal. To seal means to protect from examination by the public and unauthorized court personnel. A motion or order to delete, purge, remove, excise, erase, or redact shall be treated as a motion or order to seal.
  5. Redact. To redact means to protect from examination by the public and unauthorized court personnel a portion or portions or a specified court record.
  6. Restricted Personal Identifiers are defined in GR 22 (b)(6).
  7. Strike. A motion or order to strike is not a motion or order to seal or destroy.
  8. Vacate. To vacate means to nullify or cancel.

(c) Sealing or Redacting Court Records

  1. In a civil case, the court or any party may request a hearing to seal or redact the court records. In a criminal case or juvenile proceeding, the court, any party, or any interested person may request a hearing to seal or redact the court records. Reasonable notice of a hearing to seal must be given to all parties in the case. In a criminal case, reasonable notice of a hearing to seal or redact must also be given to the victim, if ascertainable, and the person or agency having probationary, custodial, community placement, or community supervision over the affected adult or juvenile defendant.
  2. After the hearing, the court may order the court files and records in the proceeding, or any part thereof, to be sealed or redacted if the court makes and enters written findings that the specific sealing or redaction is justified by privacy or safety concerns that outweigh the public interest in access to the court record. Agreement of the parties alone does not constitute a sufficient basis for the sealing or redaction of court records. Sufficient privacy or safety concerns that may be weighed against the public interest include findings that:
    • (a) The sealing or redaction is permitted by statute; or
    • (b) The sealing or redaction furthers an order entered under CR 12(f) or a protective order entered under CR 26(c); or
    • (c) A conviction has been vacated (underlining added for emphasis); or
    • (d) The sealing or redaction furthers an order entered pursuant to RCW 4.24.611; or
    • (e) The redaction includes only restricted personal identifiers contained in the court record; or
    • (f) Another identified compelling circumstances exists that requires the sealing or redaction.
  3. A court record shall not be sealed under this section when redaction will adequately resolve the issues before the court pursuant to subsection (2) above.
  4. Sealing of Entire Court File. When the clerk receives a court order to seal the entire court file, the clerk shall seal the court file and secure it from public access. All court records filed thereafter shall also be sealed unless otherwise ordered. The existence of a court file sealed in its entirety, unless protected by statute, is available for viewing by the public on court indices. The information on the court indices is limited to the case number, names of the parties, the notation "case sealed," the case type and cause of action in civil cases and the cause of action or charge in criminal cases, except where the conviction in a criminal case has been vacated, section (d) shall apply. The order to seal and written findings supporting the order to seal shall also remain accessible to the public, unless protected by statute.
  5. Sealing of Specified Court Records. When the clerk receives a court order to seal specified court records the clerk shall:
    • (a) On the docket, preserve the docket code, document title, document or subdocument number and date of the original court records;
    • (b) Remove the specified court records, seal them, and return them to the file under seal or store separately. The clerk shall substitute a filler sheet for the removed sealed court record. In the event the court record ordered sealed exists in a microfilm, microfiche or other storage medium form other than paper, the clerk shall limit restrict access to the alternate storage medium so as to prevent unauthorized viewing of the sealed court record; and
    • (c) File the order to seal and the written findings supporting the order to seal. Both shall be accessible to the public.
    • (d) Before a court file is made available for examination, the clerk shall prevent access to the sealed court records.
    • (e) Procedures for Redacted Court Records. When a court record is redacted pursuant to a court order, the original court record shall be replaced in the public court file by the redacted copy. The redacted copy shall be provided by the moving party. The original unredacted court record shall be sealed following the procedures set forth in (c)(5).

(d) Procedures for Vacated Criminal Convictions. In cases where a criminal conviction has been vacated and an order to seal entered, the information in the public court indices shall be limited to the case number, case type with the notation “DV” if the case involved domestic violence, the defendant's name, and the notation “vacated.”

(e) Grounds and Procedure for Requesting the Unsealing of Sealed Records.

  1. Sealed court records may be examined by the public only after the court records have been ordered unsealed pursuant to this section or after entry of a court order allowing access to a sealed court record
  2. Criminal Cases. A sealed court records in a criminal case shall be ordered unsealed only upon proof of compelling circumstances, unless otherwise provided by statute, and only upon motion and written notice to the persons entitled to notice under subsection (c)(1) of this rule except:
    • (A) If a new criminal charge is filed and the existence of the conviction contained in a sealed record is an element of the new offense, or would constitute a statutory sentencing enhancement, or provide the basis for an exceptional sentence, upon application of the prosecuting attorney the court shall nullify the sealing order in the prior sealed case(s).
    • (B) If a petition is filed alleging that a person is a sexually violent predator, upon application of the prosecuting attorney the court shall nullify the sealing order as to all prior criminal records of that individual.
  3. Civil Cases. A sealed court record in a civil case shall be ordered unsealed only upon stipulation of all parties or upon motion and written notice to all parties and proof of compelling circumstances, or pursuant to RCW 4.24 or CR 26(j). If the person seeking access cannot locate a party to provide the notice required by this rule, after making a good faith reasonable effort to provide such notice as required by the Superior Court Rules, an affidavit may be filed with the court setting forth the efforts to locate the party and requesting waiver of the notice provision of this rule. The court may waive the notice requirement of this rule if the court finds that further good faith efforts to locate the party are not likely to be successful.
  4. Juvenile Proceedings. Inspection of a sealed juvenile court record is permitted only by order of the court upon motion made by the person who is the subject of the record, except as otherwise provided in RCW 13.50.010(8) and 13.50.050 (24). Any adjudication of a juvenile offense or a crime subsequent to sealing has the effect of nullifying the sealing order, pursuant to RCW 13.50.050(15).

Old Version of GR 15:

Destruction and sealing of court records

(a) Purpose and Scope of the Rule. This rule sets forth a uniform procedure for the destruction and sealing of court files, cases, records, or specified documents or material in a court file or record at all court levels. This rule shall apply to court files, cases, records, documents, or materials in any form or format, including but not limited to hard copy, microfilm, microfiche, and automated information system format. The clerk shall maintain all documents and materials filed with the court, and shall make available for public examination all files, cases, records, documents, or materials which have not been ordered destroyed or sealed.

(b) Definition and Construction of Terms.

  1. Seal. To seal means to protect from examination by the public or nonauthorized court personnel. Sealing of a hard copy, microfilm, or microfiche is accomplished by enclosing with a fastening which must be broken before access can be obtained. Sealing of an automated information system file or record is accomplished by restricting access to authorized court personnel only. The existence of a sealed file, unless protected by statute, is available for viewing by the public on court indices, but is limited to the case number, names of the parties, the notation "case sealed", the case type in civil cases and the cause of action or charge in criminal cases. The contents of sealed documents or records within a case are not available for viewing by the public. Sealed files, documents or records may be examined by the public only after the files, documents, or records have been ordered unsealed pursuant to section (d) of this rule. A motion or order to delete, purge, remove, excise, or erase shall be treated as a motion or order to seal.
  2. Destroy. To destroy means to obliterate a court file,case, document or material in such a way as to make it permanently irretrievable. A motion or order to expunge shall be treated as a motion or order to destroy.
  3. Strike. A motion or order to strike is not a motion or order to seal or destroy.

(c) Grounds and Procedure for Requesting the Sealing or Destruction of Court Records.

  1. Criminal Cases or Juvenile Proceedings.
    • (A) Destruction of Files or Records. On motion of any interested person in a criminal case or juvenile proceeding, or on the court's own motion, and after a hearing, the court may order the files and records in the proceeding, or any part thereof, to be destroyed if the court finds that such action is expressly permitted by statute. Reasonable notice of the hearing shall be given to:
      1. the prosecuting authority of the city or county;
      2. the affected adult or juvenile defendant;
      3. the victim, if ascertainable; and
      4. the person or agency having probationary, custodial, community placement, or community supervision over the affected adult or juvenile defendant. This subsection (c)(1)(A) shall not preclude the routine destruction of documents pursuant to applicable retention schedules.
    • (B) Sealing of Files and Records. Subject to the provisions of RCW 4.24 and CR 26(j), on motion of any interested person in a criminal case or juvenile proceeding, or on the court's own motion, and after a hearing, the court may order the files and records in the proceeding, or any part thereof, to be sealed if the court finds that such action is expressly permitted by statute or that there are compelling circumstances requiring such action. Reasonable notice of the hearing shall be given by the moving party to:
      1. the prosecuting authority of the city or county;
      2. the affected adult or juvenile defendant;
      3. the victim, if ascertainable; and
      4. the person or agency having probationary, custodial, community placement, or community supervision over the affected adult or juvenile defendant.
  2. Civil Cases.
    • (A) Destruction of Files or Records. After entry of final judgment, no civil case file or any part thereof may be destroyed, except after files have been microfilmed as provided in RCW 36.23.065. Before entry of final judgment, civil case files or parts thereof may be destroyed only if the destruction is expressly permitted by statute. This subsection (c)(2)(A) shall not preclude the routine destruction of documents pursuant to applicable retention schedules.
    • (B) Sealing of Files or Records. On motion of any party to a civil proceeding, or on the court's own motion, and after reasonable notice to the nonmoving party and a hearing, the court may order the sealing of any files and records in the proceeding (i) to further an order entered under CR 12(f) or a protective order entered under CR 26(c); or (ii) under compelling circumstances where justice so requires.

(d) Grounds and Procedure for Requesting the Unsealing of Sealed Records.

  1. Criminal Cases. After the entry of an order to seal all or part of a court file in a criminal proceeding, the records sealed shall be ordered unsealed only upon proof of compelling circumstances, unless otherwise provided by statute, and only upon motion and written notice to the persons entitled to notice under subsection (c)(1) of this rule.
  2. Civil Cases. After the entry of an order to seal all or part of a court file in a civil proceeding, the records shall be ordered unsealed only upon stipulation of all parties or upon motion and written notice to all parties and proof of compelling circumstances, or pursuant to RCW 4.24 or CR 26(j).
  3. Juvenile Proceedings. After entry of an order to seal all or part of a court file in a juvenile proceeding, inspection of the files and records included in the order to seal may thereafter be permitted only by order of the court upon motion made by the person who is the subject of the record, except as otherwise provided in RCW 13.50.010(8) and (24). Any adjudication of a juvenile offense or a crime subsequent to sealing has the effect of nullifying the sealing order, pursuant to RCW 13.50.050(15).

(e) Clerks Duties.

  1. Destruction of Entire File. Upon receipt of a court order to destroy the entire file under the primary control of the clerk, the clerk shall:
    • (A) Destroy all references to the file from any applicable automated information systems; and
    • (B) Destroy all documents in the file, in whatever media they may be stored, except for the order to destroy.
  2. Sealing of Entire File. Upon receipt of a court order to seal the entire file under the primary control of the clerk, the clerk shall:
    • (A) Seal the automated file
    • (B) Seal the file and secure it and all subsequently filed documents from public access, except for the order to seal.
  3. Destruction of Specified Documents. Upon receipt of a court order to destroy specified documents or materials within a file under the primary control of the clerk, the clerk shall:
    • (A) On the automated docket destroy any docket code information except any document or sub-document number previously assigned to the document destroyed and enter "Ordered Destroyed" for the docket entry;
    • (B) Destroy the appropriate documents or material in whatever media they any be stored, substituting, when applicable, a printed or other reference to the order to destroy, including the date, location, and document number of the order to destroy; and
    • (C) File the order to destroy.
  4. Sealing of Specified Documents. Upon receipt of a court order to seal specified documents or material within a file under the primary control of the clerk, the clerk shall:
    • (A) On the automated docket, preserve the docket code, document title, document or subdocument number and date of the original documents or material;
    • (B) Remove the documents or material from the file, seal them, and return them to the file under seal or store separately, substituting a filler sheet for the removed sealed document. In the event the document ordered sealed exists in a microfilm, microfiche or other storage medium, the clerk shall limit access to the alternate storage medium so as to prevent unauthorized viewing of the sealed document; and
    • (C) File the order to seal.
    • (D) If the file is made available for examination, the clerk shall prevent access to the sealed records before the rest of the file is made available.

Robertson Law

Robertson law logo tp compressor

The attorneys of Robertson Law have a proven track record of creative and effective advocacy for clients throughout the state of Washington.

Contact Us Today!

Ryan Robertson's practice focuses exclusively on high-quality creative appellate representation in criminal and administrative matters, as well as expungements, vacation of records, and petitions to seal.