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King County to provide legal aid for vacating convictions


King County’s Department of Public Defense has formed a new unit designed to help eligible individuals vacate convictions and expunge records.

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The post-conviction relief unit was announced Monday. It will assign a paralegal and “the equivalent of one full-time attorney” to provide legal aid for anyone eligible for a vacated conviction.

“A criminal conviction is like a scarlet letter. It keeps someone entangled in the criminal legal system for years and years, long after they’ve completed their sentence,” said Anita Khandelwal, director of the Department of Public Defense.

While the DPD already provides post-conviction aid on a limited basis, the new unit will make it so the department can expand its operations to more people, along with enacting a more structured process.

Attorneys will assist clients in removing arrest records and criminal charges that were dismissed, in addition to helping seal records if possible.

Once a conviction is vacated, the person no longer has to state that they were convicted of the crime in job or housing applications.

“This kind of work is critical to equity and social justice,” Khandelwal said. “A person who has completed a sentence should not be forced to carry that mark forever. An equitable and fair system is one that, at a minimum, allows a person to rebuild his or her life.”

Under the current laws in Washington state, convictions can be vacated if a certain amount of time has elapsed. Non-violent Class B felonies can be vacated a decade after a sentence is completed, while non-violent Class-C felonies require five years. Misdemeanors need just three years after completing a sentence.

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