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Do the courts automatically seal records of dismissed charges?

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2024 | Redemption Law

Individuals who have had a brush with law enforcement in Washington can have public records related to that encounter. Those records can turn up whenever another party performs a criminal background check.

Obviously, those convicted of an offense have a criminal record that may turn up during background searches when they apply for a job or financial aid to go back to school. What fewer people realize is that background checks can also turn up records of arrests and charges that the courts eventually dismissed.

Serious criminal records can freeze people out of certain opportunities. Sometimes, minor blemishes can be the deciding factor when an individual applies for a new opportunity. Does Washington State automatically seal the records of arrests that didn’t lead to charges or charges that didn’t lead to convictions?

Record sealing is typically not automatic

Even though people might expect lenient treatment from the criminal courts in Washington, the state can actually be quite harsh toward those accused of breaking the law. While there are various forms of post-conviction or post-arrest relief available, most of them require significant effort on the part of the affected person.

The individual dealing with the consequences of an arrest that didn’t lead to prosecution or dismissed charges typically has to submit a petition to the courts and any other agencies that may have official records of the incident. A judge must review that request and determine if removing the record of the arrest or the dismissed charges is appropriate.

In some cases, those with convictions can even apply to the courts to have a prior offense vacated. It is also theoretically possible to take legal action related to the records of a vacated criminal conviction. The decision to seal certain records can help someone move on from a mistake that may have limited their opportunities.

Those who believe that a prior arrest or criminal charge has limited their opportunities in life may benefit from discussing their situation with someone familiar with Washington’s redemption laws. Taking legal action by filing the right paperwork and attending a hearing could help someone significantly reduce the long-term impact that a prior brush with the law has on their future.