Recently the Seattle City Attorney and the Mayor announced that the City would vacate the conviction records for hundreds of misdemeanor marijuana convictions. (Seattle Times, “Seattle to Vacate Hundreds of Misdemeanor Marijuana convictions, Dismiss Charges.”) The motivation for this decision is laudable. For persons over age 21, marijuana possession is now legal in Washington State. Further, historically arrest and prosecution for marijuana possession has disproportionately affected minority communities. The City Attorney has therefore announced his office will petition the Municipal Court directly to vacate these convictions.
However, this public announcement is misleading: not all misdemeanor marijuana convictions in Seattle Municipal Court will be vacated. Unfortunately, the lack of clarity by the prosecutor's office and media may mislead some individuals to believe their records have been cleared, when in fact they will not be cleared.
Eligibility to vacate a misdemeanor conviction is clearly laid out in state law. The Seattle City Attorney, no matter what his motivations are, cannot change these rules. Any person who has a misdemeanor marijuana conviction in Seattle Municipal Court who does not meet these rules cannot have their conviction vacated. This unfortunate reality is lacking in the media's description of what the City Attorney is doing.
What are the eligibility requirements? They are listed in RCW 9.96.060.
A person may not have the record of conviction vacated if any one of the following are present:
- The person has a pending criminal charge in any court.
- Less than three years have passed since the person completed the terms of sentence, including payment of financial obligations.
- The person has been convicted of a new crime since the date of conviction.
- The person has vacated a prior conviction.
- The person is either currently subject to a DV protection order, no-contact order, anti-harassment order, or civil restraining order, or has been subject to such an order in the last five years.
Since the legalization of marijuana in Washington State in 2012, the State Legislature has considered legislation changing the vacate law to permit the vacation of most or all misdemeanor marijuana convictions. But these attempts have gone nowhere and we are currently stuck with the law described above. Hopefully, the City Attorney's actions can start a dialogue in Olympia to make the vacate law more accessible to those with a misdemeanor marijuana conviction.
Until then, however, it will be important for those in Seattle who have a misdemeanor marijuana conviction to diligently check with the City Attorney's Office to see if their case qualifies to be vacated. Unfortunately, there may be several people who are going to be shocked to find out they do not.
If you have questions about your marijuana conviction and whether you qualify to vacate your conviction record, please call us (206) 395-5257 and we can get to work for you.