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Why do so few Washingtonians get their records expunged?

On Behalf of | Oct 24, 2023 | Expungement

A number of studies have looked at what’s called the “second chance gap” in various states. That term refers to the difference between the number of people eligible to have their convictions expunged or vacated and those who actually have done it.

In a study published in 2020 on Washington’s second chance expungement gap, researchers found that “60% of those who live burdened with criminal conviction records” in the state are “potentially eligible to receive relief.” Moreover, “less than 3% of individuals and less than 1% of charges eligible for vacatur have taken advantage of this relief.” 

The study places much of the blame for the gap on “hurdles in the petition process.” Other reasons include confusion or lack of knowledge about eligibility for expungement and the process. Another reason some people don’t seek it is that it requires paying off any fines and fees associated with the conviction, which not everyone is in a financial position to do.

How “clean slate” laws help

Washington doesn’t currently have any kind of program that allows automatic expungement or even sealing of a criminal record after a designated number of years or after specified requirements are met. Only a handful of states have “clean slate” laws that require courts to remove criminal records for all but serious felonies if a person meets their post-sentence requirements and doesn’t have subsequent convictions.

The study advocated for Washington to enact a clean slate law to allow the maximum number of people to clear their records, which would have a significant effect on their ability to get a good job and other benefits of having no criminal record. It noted that if everyone eligible for expungement went through the process, it would drown the court system in red tape.

As noted, however, very few people who could get their record expunged even attempt to do so. With experienced legal guidance, you can determine whether you qualify to get your record cleared and what additional steps might be required to do so. If you’re eligible for expungement, you can be confident that the process will be handled correctly.  It’s worth learning more about it.