By: South Sound Law Group

What Is a Vacated Sentence?


Vacating a criminal sentence means removing that conviction from a person’s record. The record will then appear as if the person was never charged and convicted of a crime. When a sentence is vacated:

  • It legally annuls the conviction.
  • The applicant can truthfully state on an application that they’ve never been convicted of that crime.
  • It’s no longer on the public WATCH report or the FBI database.
  • It’s no longer subject to penalties or disqualifications due to the conviction.
  • The conviction cannot be used to enhance a sentence, but it can be used in later criminal prosecutions.

Whether a person is eligible to have their criminal convictions vacated (or undone) is based on specific Washington state statutes. Washington State uses “vacate” as the wording describing this action and not the phrase “expungement” like many other states.

Remember that vacating a conviction is always discretionary for the judge who hears the motion, and the government has the right to object.  

Why Vacate a Conviction from the Record?

There are many compelling reasons someone may want to vacate their past criminal convictions. Most people do this for specific reasons such as applying for a job or promotion, housing, schools, or certifications. Some people have a more emotional reason, and clearing up their record of a criminal conviction helps them overcome past mistakes often attached to a difficult period in their life.

NOTE: Vacating a criminal conviction will not restore firearm rights.

What Criteria Is Used for a Vacated Sentence?

Whether someone is eligible for a vacated sentence is mostly a matter of time passed with no new criminal convictions. Most individuals either meet the criteria or don’t. For others, it can be a bit more complicated and may require additional steps to meet the eligibility requirements of the statute. Having a knowledgeable attorney familiar with vacating criminal convictions can save you money, time, and a massive headache. 

If the following criteria are met, a court may vacate the conviction. One exception is domestic violence offenses, where additional criteria apply. Note that this is a broad overview and does not include every type of criteria or exception. Contact our office to speak with an attorney for full details on vacating a specific conviction.

  • A specific period of time has passed since the end of every condition of the sentence, including probation, treatment, classes, and all financial obligations. Note that this clock begins when these criteria are complete. How long must pass depends on the seriousness of the charges and conviction
  • There have been no convictions for a new crime in this state, another state, or in federal or tribal court for a specific period, dependent on the crime’s severity.
  • There are no new pending criminal charges in this state, another state, or federal or tribal court, as of the date the motion to vacate is filed.
  • There are no current restraints such as a no-contact order, domestic violence protection order, anti-harassment order, or civil restraining order which restrains one party from contacting the other party. In addition, the applicant cannot have previously been subject to such restraints and found to have violated one or more items in the order in the required period before the vacation application.

Domestic violence convictions must meet the following criteria to be vacated:

  • Five years have passed since all conditions of the sentence were completed. This includes probation, completing any treatment ordered, and paying all financial obligations.
  • There has been no conviction of any new crime in this state, another state, or federal or tribal court in the three years before the vacation application
  • There cannot be two or more domestic violence convictions from separate incidents. If more than one conviction arose out of a single incident, none of those count as a previous conviction.

What Are Offenses Not Eligible for Vacating?

The following convictions are not eligible to be vacated:

  • Sex offenses (exception: a conviction for failure to register as a sex offender is eligible for vacation), including sexual exploitation of children
  • Obscenity and pornography
  • A violent offense or an attempt to commit a violent crime.
  • Driving while under the influence (DUI) or physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, even if the vehicle isn’t being driven
  • Operating a railroad, steamboat, vehicle, etc., while intoxicated

Let Us Advise You

Applying to vacate a sentence is a multifaceted, complex process that can provide positive outcomes but can significantly benefit from the assistance of an experienced lawyer. Call us at 253-465-2722 to start the process of clearing the record.