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When Is a Crime Not a Crime?

Posted by Ryan Robertson on Apr 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

Recently we successfully vacated a client's felony conviction in a local jurisdiction. However, before doing so we had to resolve a curious issue. When is a “crime” not a “crime”?

The issue had nothing to do with the client's Washington felony conviction. Instead, the issue arose because the client had subsequently been convicted of a petty offense in another state.

The Washington felony vacate law states that a person is ineligible to vacate a felony conviction if he or she;

“[H]as been convicted of a new crime in this state, another state, or federal court since the date of the offender's discharge under RCW 9.94A.637.”

Each state has its own unique criminal justice system. Within these unique systems, legal terms will from time to time be defined differently. In our client's situation, the client had been “convicted” of a petty offense in another state, but the offense was specifically excluded from that state's definition of a “crime.” To make matters more confusing, this petty offense is defined in Washington as a “crime.” Therefore, we had to figure out which definition of “crime” applied to the vacate law; the Washington definition or the other state's definition.

In several instances Washington statutes instruct judges to compare convictions occurring in other states to the definition for the criminal offense under Washington law. For example, if another state considers certain conduct to be a “crime,” a Washington judge must compare it to the Washington criminal offense that most closely identifies the same criminal conduct. If we applied this rule to the client's case, the petty offense that occurred in another state would be transformed into a “crime” in Washington; thus making the client ineligible to vacate the Washington felony conviction.

But the felony vacate law does not contain any language instructing judges to compare an out-of-state crime to a Washington definition for the same conduct. We felt this was a significant omission and established that this meant judges in Washington had to accept the definition of the petty offense from the other state. The prosecutor and court agreed, and our client was able to have his Washington felony vacated.

This case presented a highly unusual problem. We put in the work necessary to research the issue and come with a solution that benefitted the client. Each case is different, and not every case will end with success. But the lawyers at Robertson Law are committed to providing the highest quality representation to each client, no matter how difficult the case.

If you have questions about your criminal record and want to try to have it vacated, please call our office at (206) 395-5257.

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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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.