The first person with a felony record ever elected to be a state lawmaker in Washington finally got five felonies vacated by a judge this September. Rep. Tarra Simmons, who represents Bremerton, had a felony record going back to the age of 13 when she was convicted of second-degree assault. That was followed by a number of drug-related convictions.
Although she was able to become a practicing attorney and then, in 2020, be elected to the Washington State Legislature, she says her criminal record has been an “invisible prison.” She has been working both inside and outside the legislature to help others whose criminal records have held them back.
A multitude of roadblocks caused by a criminal record
Among the challenges Rep. Simmons has faced include being unable to:
- Qualify for TSA PreCheck
- Travel to outside the U.S. – even to Canada
- Take the bar exam (although the Washington Supreme Court granted her petition to do so)
- Volunteer at her children’s school
She says that “the list goes on, but the most important thing really has to do with housing and employment.” Job applicants’ records can be found in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) when employers do a background check. Even parents facing child custody battles can have their criminal records used against them. She notes that these and more are “collateral consequences” of having a record – particularly one that involves felonies or gross misdemeanors.
Washington’s New Hope Act, which became law in 2019, made the most serious charge – the assault charge — eligible for “vacatur.” Rep. Simmons is continuing her work to help previously incarcerated people clear their records and work to minimize the criminal consequences for many drug-related crimes.
It can seem like an uphill battle to put your criminal record behind you so that you can move on with your life. This one story is an example of how it is possible. Getting experienced legal guidance can be a good first step.