If you have a criminal record in Washington, you already know the many limitations accompanying the consequences of long-past mistakes. Housing setbacks, job opportunities, international travel and even local volunteering are among the challenges of living in this “invisible prison.”
Washington’s New Hope Act, passed in 2019, has made it easier to vacate certain convictions. While not every request to vacate convictions requires you to appear at a hearing, when necessary, it’s a good idea to show up fully prepared.
Bring all relevant legal documents
It’s best to assume that the court will not have all legal documentation related to your conviction(s) at the ready. Bringing everything yourself will reduce the possibility of delays and demonstrate to the court that you are fully committed to turning your life around.
Whether court-ordered or not, this documentation should include evidence of any rehabilitation or community service you’ve completed.
While the court may not ask you to present references, this evidence can only help your case. It may even be the thing that tips the court ruling in your favor.
Consider questions that the court may ask and have answers ready
There’s no such thing as being over-prepared for a hearing. The goal is to never be in the position of improvising answers. Hearings can be stressful and some people tend to talk themselves into trouble if they’re put on the spot while they’re already nervous.
Every case is unique. The court may ask zero questions, one question or ten questions. Be ready for the latter.
Prepare a personal statement
This is your chance to speak directly to the court and explain how you’ve evolved since the conviction. Topics might include expressing remorse, explaining self-improvement steps you’ve taken, including any favorable education and employment information, and the lessons you’ve learned from your experiences. It’s important to be honest and open about your life path since your conviction. Be sure to end on a positive note.
Enlist an attorney’s help
Not everyone can afford to hire a lawyer, and bringing one to your hearing isn’t strictly necessary. However, consulting an experienced criminal law attorney can significantly improve your chances. This person can fine-tune your hearing preparation and, if you choose, attend the hearing for support and on-the-fly coaching.