Once again, the Washington State Legislature will consider making major changes to the vacate laws of our State. In past years the Legislature has failed to take any meaningful action on this issue. This year, however, may be different.
The Legislature will convene the 2019 session facing a different reality. Governor Inslee recently announced his Marijuana Justice Initiative to clear conviction records for certain misdemeanor marijuana possession crimes. The City of Seattle recently took action to attempt to clear marijuana convictions from the Seattle Municipal Court. More generally, society recognizes the draconian toll excessive court costs and fines place on criminal defendants. This year, the time may be right to reconsider the restrictive nature of our vacate laws.
House Bill (HB) 1041 seeks to make significant changes to our felony and misdemeanor vacate laws.
- It would make it easier to get a Certificate of Discharge. This new law would eliminate payment of court costs and other assessments from eligibility for a Certificate of Discharge. A person would be eligible for a Certificate of Discharge after paying restitution only.
- It would increase the types of felony convictions that can be vacated. This new law would provide the opportunity to vacate certain Assault 2° and Assault 3° convictions, as well as certain convictions for Robbery 2°.
- It would shorten the timing requirements for vacating a felony conviction: This new law would eliminate wait periods tied to the Certificate of Discharge. Currently, a person must wait five years (class C felonies) or ten years (class B felonies) from the date they obtain a Certificate of Discharge before vacating a felony conviction. The new law, while still requiring people to obtain the Certificate of Discharge, would instead permit the vacation of a felony conviction potentially as soon as five or ten years from the date of conviction.
- It would increase the number of misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor convictions that can be vacated. This new law would finally eliminate the arbitrary restriction that a person can only vacate a single misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor conviction.
- It would make it easier to vacate a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor conviction: This new law, like the changes to the Certificate of Discharge, would require only that the person pay restitution as a requirement to vacate a conviction. The failure to pay non-restitution costs, like fines and assessments, would not prevent the vacation of a conviction.
As I mentioned above, in recent years the Legislature has failed to take any meaningful action to help people clear past criminal records. We can only hope this year is different, and these proposed changes can become new law.
If you have questions about your criminal records and would like to look into vacating a conviction, please contact our office by phone or email. We are available to help.