Effective June 9, 2016, Washington residents convicted of felony and misdemeanor offenses can apply for a Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP). What is this? Why is the State offering such a certificate? Will it help?
What is a CROP? First, it is important to know what it isn't. The CROP does not vacate or expunge a conviction record. It does not restore any rights - like the right to possess a firearm. It does not alter, destroy, or seal any criminal or court records. Instead, a CROP is a court order meant to enhance a person's chances for receiving housing and/or employment opportunities when they have a criminal record.
How does a person get a CROP? A CROP petition must be filed in the superior court. A CROP is a "civil order" which means the person must pay a filing fee of $240.00 or seek a waiver of the fee. The person (or the person's lawyer) must also serve a copy of the CROP on each prosecutor involved in each criminal case. Generally, a person seeking a CROP can file the request either (1) in the county where he/she resides, or (2) in the county where the conviction occurred. However, if the conviction was entered in a district or municipal court then the request can only be filed in the county where the conviction occurred.
To qualify for a CROP the person must meet certain criteria. First, there is a time requirement:
- Misdemeanor/Gross Misdemeanor:
- One year from date of sentencing where no confinement was imposed.
- Eighteen months from date of release from total or partial confinement.
- Class B and C Felonies:
- Two years from date of sentencing where no confinement imposed.
- Two years from date of release from total or partial confinement.
- Violent Offenses:
- Five years from date of sentencing where no confinement imposed.
- Five years from date of release from total or partial confinement.
Second, the person must either complete, or show compliance with, the judgment and sentence imposed by the judge. For legal financial obligations this means the person: (1) has paid in full; (2) is making payments according to a payment plan; or (3) is not making payments according to a payment plan, but there is a good explanation why. There must be no unresolved arrests or pending criminal charges, and the person must not be under a requirement to register as a sex offender.
Are there convictions for which a person cannot get a CROP? Yes. The following are excluded:
- All Class A felonies; including attempts, solicitations, and conspiracies.
- Sex offenses; including most offenses as described under RCW 9A.44; 9A.64; and 9.68A; with only limited exceptions.
- Any crime that includes sexual motivation.
- Extortion in the first degree.
- Vehicular assault (reckless driving and DUI)
What happens after a CROP is issued? The order is sent to the Washington State Patrol where the person's WATCH Report (Washington Access to Criminal History) is updated to show the existence of the order. All criminal history remains on the WATCH Report. The CROP itself is a public court record and will be accessible to the public like any court record. A CROP order does not seal a court file or restrict access to court records.
What really happens after a CROP is issued? Because this law is so new it is impossible to predict what benefits may result from the order. The legislature created this law to reduce "barriers to employment" and make a person with a criminal record "more employable." The CROP is described as "concrete and objective information" for a potential employer to use when making a hiring decision. But the existence of a CROP does not prevent an employer from considering a person's criminal history when choosing whom to hire. Despite the good intentions of this law, an employer can still deny someone a job because of their criminal record.
Despite this questionable impact on employment, the CROP will help people with a criminal record get professional and business licenses from state and local governments. Unfortunately, there are many exceptions. Even with a CROP, a person may not receive licensing in the following areas:
- Criminal justice.
- Real estate brokers and salespersons.
- Escrow agents.
- Notaries public.
- Bail bond agents.
- Security guards.
- Private investigators.
- Physicians and physician assistants.
- Nursing home administrators.
- Assisted living facilities employees.
- Long-term care workers.
- Vulnerable adult care providers.
The law provides a glimmer of hope for persons hoping to obtain a license from the Department of Health and Department of Social and Health Services. With a CROP, these agencies MAY license a person after engaging in a comprehensive review of the person's history. But the law very clearly states that these agencies can deny licensing based solely on the existence of a criminal conviction.
Why did the State create the CROP? Legislative records show that the legislature had good intentions when it made this law. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and many public interest groups supported the law. This law was about "redemption." Supporters of this law wanted to help criminal offenders get back on their feet and re-integrate into society. To them a CROP order enhances a person's chance of success in getting a job and moving away from poverty and crime.
But it is equally clear that special interests watered down this law to the point that it may not provide the help it promises to give. Only certain offenders can get a CROP. To those excluded the chances of finding employment will remain limited. Even with a CROP there is no guarantee it will help people get a job. Employers are given immunity to ignore it and deny employment opportunities based on criminal history. Significant state licensing opportunities are excluded from those who obtain a CROP. This begs the legitimate question - how does a CROP really help someone get a job? Only time will tell.
Should you get a CROP? Our firm works hard to help people vacate criminal conviction records. The vacate process remains to sole process under state law to remove conviction records from the WATCH Report. A CROP is not a vacate order and does not clear any criminal records from your past. Our recommendation is to seek vacation of a criminal conviction record whenever possible.
But there may be situations where a CROP can be useful.
- A CROP may be helpful to those convicted of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor that cannot be vacated, like a DUI.
- A CROP may be helpful to those who cannot vacate certain misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor convictions due to the statutory limitation that limits the vacation of a single misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor conviction.
- A CROP may be helpful to those who do not yet qualify to vacate a conviction, but will in the future. Generally , it takes three to five years following completion of sentence requirements to vacate a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor conviction. It can take five to ten years to vacate a felony conviction.
In these situations it may simply be better to have a CROP than to not have one. Again, only time will tell if the CROP delivers the benefits promised by the backers of the law.
Do you have questions about getting a CROP? While the CROP is a new law, our firm has years of experience helping people vacate criminal convictions throughout Washington State. We are happy to speak with you and investigate your cases to find out if you qualify for this new CROP. Give us a call.
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