Washington Court Records
Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Infractions in Washington
The Washington State justice system classifies offenses into three categories in its penal statutes. They are civil infractions, misdemeanors, and classified felonies. The class of an offense and the applicable punishment depends on its severity as defined in the state’s statutes. Summarily, Washington crimes are tried on the basis of these categories.
What is a felony in Washington?
Felonies are the most serious offenses, and they carry harsh penalties in compliance with the state criminal codes (RCW 9A.20.021).. In the state of Washington, felonies are categorized into classes A, B, and C, with penalties increasing according to the severity of the crime. The subcategories are:
- Class A Felony: this is the most serious class of offense in Washington. Depending on the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal record, the penalty can range from a fine of up to $50,000 to life imprisonment. An example of a Class A felony in Washington is first-degree murder, which is punishable by life imprisonment (RCW 9A.32.040). First-degree robbery is also a Class A felony. (RCW 9A.56.200)
- Class B Felony: Class B felonies are punishable by up to 10 years in a state correctional facility, fines of up to $20,000, or both. Unlawful possession of firearms and first-degree extortion are examples of Class B felonies (RCW.9.41.040, 9A.56.120).
- Class C Felony: Although Class C felonies are serious crimes, they are not as grievous as Class A or Class B felonies. Promoting pornography and theft of items worth less than $5000 are Class C felonies. They are punishable by fines of up to $10,000, up to five years in a state correctional facility, or both. (RCW 9.68.140, RCW 9A.20.021.
There are additional guidelines and provisions used in the sentencing of felony crimes in Washington. Some defendants in felony cases, such as first-time offenders, may qualify for sentencing waivers or sentencing alternatives.
Since penalties for felony crimes can be severe, the Washington State Criminal Procedure must be followed in order to protect the defendant’s rights. Except there are aggravating circumstances, punishments outside the standard provided by the criminal code cannot be imposed. Felony crimes that are rarely charged or newly created by the legislature are referred to as unranked felonies. If a person is convicted of an unranked felony, the judge’s sentence may include confinement, fines, or financial obligations or community service that do not exceed a period of one year. For unranked felonies, sentences that include prison terms of more than one year are considered exceptional and must be justified by the court in writing.
What are some examples of felonies in Washington?
Some of the offenses categorized as felonies in Washington include:
- First and second-degree murder
- Sexual assault
- Sexual exploitation of a minor
- Assault with a deadly weapon
- Identity theft
- Unauthorized abortions
- Stealing a gun
- Kidnapping or unlawful imprisonment
- Homicide by abuse
The Washington Criminal Procedure stipulates that offenders must be convicted legally in a court before penalties are administered.
Felony convictions may invite other consequences outside prison sentences and fines. One of them is the loss of civil rights such as the right to vote, to obtain or bear arms, and the right to DNA privacy. Persons who have been convicted of felony crimes may be denied admission into some schools and they may no longer be eligible for federal loans and grants. Legal immigrants who are convicted of felony crimes may be deported. Other consequences include loss of professional and practicing licenses and ineligibility for some housing programs.
Can I get a Felony Removed from a Court Record in Washington?
Persons who have been convicted of felony crimes may have the crime vacated from court records if certain conditions are met. According to section RCW 9.94A.640 of the Revised Code of Washington, offenders who have completed all the requirements of their sentence may apply to the sentencing court for a vacation. If the conditions for vacation are met, the court may clear the record by:
- Permitting the offender to withdraw their “guilty” plea and replace it with a plea of “not guilty”
- Setting aside the guilty verdict, if an offender was convicted after pleading “not guilty”
- Dismissing the indictment against the offender
Conviction vacations release the offender from all penalties and disabilities incurred as a result of the offense. Convictions that have been vacated will no longer be included in the offender’s criminal history. The local law enforcement agency may not disclose or disseminate such convictions to any persons except criminal justice enforcement agencies. For all intents and purposes, offenders whose convictions or crimes have been vacated may state that they have never committed such crimes. Persons who meet the set requirements may apply to have their convictions vacated by filling forms online or obtain the form from the court’s administrative office.
Is expungement the same as sealing court records in Washington?
Conviction vacations are not the same as sealing court records in Washington. A vacation sets aside the conviction but does not completely remove or destroy the record of the offense. Such records may still be accessible by certain members of the public and private organizations, except they are sealed. A court record may be sealed if it has been vacated. Also, if safety and privacy concerns are found to outweigh the public interest in access to a record, it may be sealed or redacted.
How Long Does a Felony Stay on Your Record in Washington?
Except they are vacated or sealed, felony convictions can stay on criminal records for life. Requests for vacations or sealing of records may be granted if conditions stipulated by the state’s criminal code are met. For example, a Class B felony may be vacated if 10 years have passed since the completion of the sentence, and no other crimes have been committed in Washington or any other state in that period. Persons who have been convicted of Class C felonies may apply to have the convictions vacated five years after completing their sentence. Such persons must not have been convicted of any other crime in Washington or any other state in the stipulated time.
What is a Misdemeanor in Washington?
Misdemeanors in Washington are crimes punishable by fines of no more than $5000, a sentence of no more than 364 days in county jail, or both. If an act is designated a crime by state statutes, and no penalties are attached to it, committing such a crime is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are considered more serious crimes than infractions but less serious than felonies. While felony cases are heard by superior courts, misdemeanor cases are usually heard by district or municipal courts.
In Washington, misdemeanors crimes are classified into misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors.
- Misdemeanors: of all the offenses punishable by jail time in Washington, misdemeanors are the least serious. The maximum penalty for misdemeanors includes imprisonment in a county jail for no more than 90 days, a fine of no more than $1000, or both. Examples of misdemeanors are shopping cart theft, prostitution, and indecent exposure (RCW 9A.56.270, 9A.88.30, 9A.88.010).
- Gross misdemeanors: a gross misdemeanor is less serious than a felony crime but more serious than a misdemeanor. The maximum punishment for a gross misdemeanor is no more than 364 days in county jail, fines of up to $5000, or both. Possession of stolen property worth no more than $750 and possession of another person’s identification are examples of gross misdemeanors. (RCW 9A.56.170, 9A.56.330)
What are some examples of Misdemeanors in Washington?
Common examples of misdemeanors in Washington include:
- Third-degree theft
- Theft of subscription television services
- Patronizing a prostitute
- Unlawful issuance of checks of amounts no more than $750
- Obscuring the identity of a machine
- Reckless endangerment
- Interference with the reporting of domestic violence
- Criminal trespass
Can I Get a Misdemeanor Removed from a Record in Washington?
Persons who have been convicted of misdemeanor crimes in Washington may apply to the court for a vacation of the conviction. Vacation of misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor convictions are at the discretion of the court. Requests may be granted if:
- Three years have passed since the completion of all the requirements of the offender’s sentence
- The offender has no new convictions and is not currently charged with any crimes in Washington or any other state
- The applicant has not violated any restraining order in the five years before the application
Offenses involving domestic violence, operating a railroad or steamboat while intoxicated, and violent offenses cannot be vacated. The Washington Courts Guide to criminal history and court records provides guidelines and requirements for the vacation of misdemeanor records.
Can a DUI Be Expunged in Washington?
Except for misdemeanor DUI convictions, or ones that have been reduced to lesser charges such as reckless endangerment, DUI convictions cannot be vacated or expunged in the state of Washington. For misdemeanor convictions to be vacated, the following conditions for vacation must be met:
- Three years must have passed since the completion of all the requirements of the sentence
- There must be no subsequent alcohol or drug violation within 10 years since the period of arrest
When a conviction is vacated, it is set aside and will no longer be part of the offender’s criminal history record. Vacated permits the offender to legally say that they were never convicted of the crime. This can be helpful in instances where felony or misdemeanor records may be deterrents to admission or eligibility. Examples of such instances are college admissions, background checks for employment purposes, business loans and grants, and housing. However, vacations do not completely erase or expunge a person’s criminal records. The records may still be available to law enforcement agencies, courts, and other authorized organizations.
What constitutes an Infraction in Washington?
The Washington state code designates all offenses that are neither felonies nor misdemeanors as infractions. Sometimes called “petty crimes,” infractions are violations of statutes that are not punishable by jail time but by fines. Cases of infractions are heard by district courts. Persons charged with infractions do not have the right to a jury trial. The state is also not required to provide or appoint free counsel; interested persons may hire attorneys at their own expense. There are two types of infractions in the State of Washington, and they are:
- Traffic infractions: these are violations of statutes that affect the condition and operation of vehicles. They can be categorized into:
- Moving traffic infractions: they occur when a traffic law is violated by a moving vehicle. Examples include: disobeying road signs, improper lane change, driving off the road, and making improper turns.
- Non-moving traffic infractions: typically occur when a car is at rest, but can also include traffic laws violated while a car is in motion. Examples of non-moving infractions include: driving without a seatbelt, parking tickets, and inattentive driving. Non-moving infractions are not submitted to the Department of Licensing and will not stay permanently on offenders’ driving records.
- Violation of pedestrian laws: this can occur through illegal street crossing, sudden movement into traffic, and the violation of other Washington State Pedestrian laws.
- Non-traffic or civil infractions: they include licensing violations and other offenses that have been decriminalized in state or municipal codes.
What are some examples of Infractions in Washington?
Some offenses that are considered infractions in Washington include:
- Failure to register as a contractor
- Misrepresentation of an animal as a service animal
- Selling or renting violent computer games to minors
- Plumbing without certificates
- Expired car documentation
- Traffic light violations
- Texting while driving
- Parking tickets
- Disturbing the peace
- Speeding tickets
- Walking a dog without a leash
Can Infractions be Expunged from a Washington Criminal Court Record?
Infractions such as traffic law violations cannot be expunged from Washington Criminal Court records. Traffic infractions stay on the offender’s criminal record for up to 7 years. Such records are reported in the Washington State Department of Licensing database and can be accessed by employers and other private organizations. For other infractions, offenders may apply for relief from judgment. To apply, the applicant will file a motion and an affidavit, after which the court will set a hearing date to determine if relief should be granted.