Expungement Blog

Washington Supreme Court: Deferred Sentence Dismissal Not the Same as Vacated Conviction

Posted by Ryan Robertson on Apr 28, 2020 | 0 Comments

The Washington Supreme Court has recently ruled that a deferred sentence dismissal is not the equivalent to vacating a conviction record. This ruling underscores the importance of the vacate remedy, and is a reminder that even “dismissed” convictions must be vacated to receive the benefits of the vacate statute.

Many people in Washington State, who are convicted of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor crime, may receive what is called a deferred sentence. A deferred sentence means that if you abide by the sentence conditions imposed by the court, the court may withdraw the guilty finding and dismiss the charge.

The Supreme Court ruled, however, that this result is not the equivalent of vacating a conviction record. A deferred sentence dismissal is still a “conviction.” It is still a part of a person's criminal history.

While it may initially appear confusing, and even unfair, to consider a dismissed case as a conviction, the Court's ruling is well founded in law. A statute must be interpreted, and applied, based on its plain meaning. Courts cannot change the meaning of a statute to reach a particular result, or add or subtract words to a statute to give it a meaning different than its plain language. Basically, if you don't like what a statute says, the courts say change the statute.

The simple truth is that a deferred sentence dismissal doesn't mean much. This is because the remedies that matter most to a person only exist under the vacate law. The vacate law states:

  • A person can state for all purposes they were never convicted of the underlying crime.
  • The person is released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the conviction.
  • A vacated conviction is no longer criminal history.
  • The vacated conviction cannot be used to enhance a future criminal sentence.
  • A vacated conviction cannot be disclosed by the Washington State Patrol (WATCH Report). (Except to other law enforcement agencies.)
  • The FBI is notified the conviction has been vacated.

None of these benefits exist in the deferred sentence statute. Accordingly the Supreme Court had no choice but to hold that a deferred sentence dismissal is not the equivalent to vacating a conviction.

For years we at Robertson Law have understood the inadequacy of the deferred sentence dismissal, and have helped many clients vacate their dismissed deferred sentence convictions so they can receive the real remedies that exist under the vacate law.

If you have any questions about your case, and whether you qualify to vacate a conviction record, please consider contacting us at (206) 395-5257, or email us through our website contact feature. 

About the Author

Ryan Robertson

Ryan is a creative and articulate advocate who limits his practice to criminal appeals and post-conviction relief including vacation, expungement, and sealing of records. He has worked exclusively in the criminal defense field since passing the Washington State bar exam in 1998. Ryan has been recognized as a Rising Star lawyer by Law & Politics Magazine.


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

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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.