Washington Residents Struggle to Expunge Criminal History Data

Under certain circumstances a person convicted of a crime can take steps to get the conviction off his or her record.   When this is achieved, the court orders police agencies and court clerks to change their records.   A problem arises in that private data collection companies are gathering conviction data through public records requests and maintaining and selling such records long after the conviction is vacated.  This is not fair to the individual who attempted to vacate, or expunge, or seal the record.

Private data collections, many of which advertise online, continue to sell criminal conviction data on records that courts of vacated or expunged.

Private data collections, many of which advertise online, continue to sell criminal conviction data on records that courts have vacated or expunged.

Most court records on criminal cases are public.  Even juvenile court case files are typically open to public inspection.  The items in a criminal file that are not open to the public are such things as psychological evaluation, applications for appointed counsel, etc.  Typically, if a person has stayed out of trouble for a certain number of years, then they can apply to have their conviction vacated.  This is true of most misdemeanors (except DUI) and most low-level felonies.  A site that provides some guidance on how to seal and vacate convictions is www.courts.wa.gov.  The site also explains the process of a juvenile court expungement.  As you can see from the standard misdemeanor form provided, the court will order that: “For all purposes, the defendant may state that he or she has never been convicted of the offense listed….” Reading this, a person feels free to deny the existence of ever having such a conviction when they apply for a job.  Employers will often try to get applicants to list convictions that have been vacated or expunged.  Often an application will read as follows: “Have you ever been charged, convicted or admitted committing, or are you awaiting trial for any crime? You must answer “yes”, even if the matter was later dismissed, deferred vacated or expunged.”  A potential employer will often use public records searches to check for criminal convictions.  Searching an individual’s criminal history is not always very difficult.  Earlier this year, I wrote an article for Helium.com about criminal history searches.  A person need not be an attorney or lawyer to conduct such searches.  Searches through these traditional means will not typically turn up convictions that have been vacated or expunged.  The problem arises when criminal history searches are conducted through private data collection services.  The other thing that I  have found is that many times the criminal records that these private companies provide are inaccurate.  I worked as a defense lawyer on a court case in Stevens County last year and used an online service to run criminal history checks.  It turned out that when we checked the same individuals through the FBI, that the online service only had about half of the conviction data correct.

In my opinion, new legislation is needed to require that private data collection companies provide accurate records.  If an individual succeeds in vacating, sealing, or expunging his record, the online services should have an obligation to update their records as well.

Since I mentioned Helium.com, let me tell you a little more about that.  Helium is an online writers cooperative that also provides services for writers who also blog.  Visit that site or email Barbara Whitlock at  bwhitlock@helium.com for more information.  Helium is always looking for attorneys and other professionals with expertise to share to join their writer’s community.

2 Responses to “Washington Residents Struggle to Expunge Criminal History Data”

  • Hello Mr. Grahm can you help me to vacate my record of a Trumped up conviction on my record and something else on my record I did not do . I am also seeking to get my files sealed so I can get a part time job . I am being hurt by island county Mr. Grahm . I was also dragged and kicked on the cement by three island county officers causing me pain and suffering this has been very hard for me . Ms. JEssica Simpson thank you for your time I am a indigent women I need probono rep I am in island county

    • Hi Jessica. Sorry to hear you are having problems. I wouldn’t be able to help you because Island County is too far away from me. I am mostly working in eastern Washington now.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
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