After you have been tried and convicted of a crime, paid any fees and served any required time behind bars, you may feel that you have paid your debt to society and you should start with a clean slate. Unfortunately, many people find that having a criminal conviction on their record sets them back for years.

This is true, of course, for people who have been convicted of felonies and certain charges, such as many sex crimes, that require them to put their names on a registry. Many people are surprised to learn that a conviction on even relatively minor charges can interfere with their ability to find suitable employment or even housing.

Fortunately, the state of Washington has some provisions to help people clear certain types of crimes off their records so that they can get a better shot at a second chance in life. This process is sometimes known as expungement.

The Washington Courts system allows people to clear their names through sealing court records, destroying court records, vacating convictions, deleting criminal history records and other means. The system is particularly robust for juveniles, giving young people a chance to start off their adult lives without being unduly limited by convictions they sustained when they were minors.

There are many limitations on the process, and not all types of convictions are eligible, but many people who have been convicted as minors can request that the court seal or destroy their records. In some cases, young people are able to vacate their convictions through a process known as deferred disposition.

There are expungement provisions for people convicted as adults, as well. Adults can, in some cases, have their records sealed and destroyed. Adults convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes may request that their convictions be vacated. In some cases, felony convictions for nonviolent crimes may be vacated, as well.

It’s important to note that there are many limitations on the expungement process, and even a successful expungement won’t necessarily erase all evidence of a conviction in your past. However, with the help of a skilled lawyer, expungement can be an important step toward taking back control over your life.