Category: Ross’ Ref Q’s

Ross’ Ref Q’s – Get rid of criminal records

We get a lot of reference questions at the King County Law Library.
The refrain goes that because we aren’t practicing attorneys, we can’t offer legal advice—as librarians, we can only offer resources.
That said, some questions are very interesting & inspire me to do some research of my own, collected here in this column. Don’t construe this as legal advice!

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Welcome back to another exciting edition of Ross’ Ref Q’s. As a reminder, we’re here to interrogate heady reference questions, or otherwise note unique research strategies. In the first round, we  looked at avenues for suing the President — the short answer there is that you really can’t sue the President for damages for official acts, which is what most people want. That question was a little off the wall, but it’s asked somewhat frequently and it allowed for a unique look at how we tackle “getting started” questions. This month’s question, on the other hand, looks at a process found at the tail end of a court process:

How Do I Get Rid of My Criminal Record?

This is a straight forward question, but one that is complicated to answer. It is complicated because people can mean different things when saying “get rid” of their record, complicated because whichever path they have in mind isn’t always possible, and complicated because the “correct” path isn’t obvious via court-provided materials.

What does it mean to get rid of your criminal record?

I chose this general phrasing because for one, this is how the question often arrives, but it also underpins the typical nature of the question: folks have a criminal record and they want it sealed, perhaps, or vacated (often these terms are used interchangeable, but as we’ll see, they are not). Whichever way, they want it gone. Understandable.

The first step is to ask about their criminal record and ascertain what type of conviction they have. Then we’ll talk about what exactly they want done. This can hopefully be hashed out in a few sentences. Important distinctions are whether the conviction was for a felony or a misdemeanor, whether they were a minor at the time of conviction or an adult, and what they want their record to be: totally clear and empty, or to simply restrict access to case information? This last part touches on the important distinction between vacating convictions vs. sealing a record. 

Learning about their criminal record up front is crucial because depending on the conviction, it’s possible that it can’t be sealed, destroyed, vacated, or much else. But before we get too far, what do all these terms mean? The first resource to which I’ll point people is Washington Courts’ guide on “Sealing and Destroying Court Records, Vacating Convictions, and Deleting Criminal History Records.” This has general definitions as well as basic steps to these processes. The downside is that this guide is vague and not actionable for a pro se library user. But, it does speak authoritatively about what’s possible, so it serves as a worthwhile jumping off point.

Let’s talk sealing.

First I’ll offer the primary authority on “Destruction, Sealing, and Redaction of Court Records:” GR 15 / LGR 15.

What we can learn between these rules and the above court guide above is that sealing means preventing access to a court record, and that this cannot be accomplished for adult criminal cases that resulted in a conviction.

So, we are seemingly left sealing records that are either juvenile or civil.

If the user wants to seal juvenile court records, there exist DIY form packets and third party resources, in addition to the Washington Courts’ pattern forms. I’d usually pull these up on my monitor and encourage the user to use our computers or their smart phone to learn more.

Civil sealing comes up frequently at the law library, although this clearly diverges from this reference question prompt. In short, going this route involves first filing a motion and order to seal. There is a King County Clerk-provided Order, but strangely they have not provided a matching motion. Folks have to use the general family law motion and make it work.

But our question here is about criminal cases. Juvenile records have the potential to be sealed, but not adult records? What else can be done with adult convictions?

Let’s talk vacation. 

Vacating means to set aside a conviction—if you successfully vacate a conviction you can truthfully say you were not convicted. Chapter 9.96 of the RCW deals with misdemeanors, RCW 9.94A.640 is for felonies.

What’s possible re: vacation has to do with how the conviction was classified:

If it was a misdemeanor, I point people to the Washington Law Help article.

If it was a non-violent Class B or C Felony, I similarly point them to the Washington Law Help article. Washington Courts provides an overview on this as well, but Washington Law Help displays the information in a more pleasing manner, to my eyes. There’s also the Courts bank of forms, but again, I think WLH provides a more guided experience, plus I don’t like to recommend forms if I don’t have to.

If the conviction resulted from a crime committed as a juvenile, the Washington Law Help packet mentioned in the sealing section is helpful.

Lastly, and though it’s beyond our focus here, WLH also has a Motion to Vacate packet for the civil side as well.

Expunge? And a broader view of the issue.

Whereas sealing and vacation have to do with altering or clearing legal records, expungement is the deletion of criminal records on the law enforcement side. This is handled exclusively by the Washington State Patrol- they have an FAQ and a form. From my understanding though, the only thing they will delete is non-conviction related data… which isn’t usually with what our users are concerned.

But this ties into a larger issue with these yet disjointed actions (sealing, vacating, expunging): you can’t seal records that led to a conviction, and Washington State Patrol will only delete non-conviction data… but vacation hand waves away convictions. So I’m left with the impression that if you vacate first, you can then fully seal and expunge the court and law enforcement records, because they’re not pointing to a conviction, right?

I’m not so sure. In an actual reference interview, the Washington Courts guide and the Washington Law Help articles are more than enough to get folks started, and they provide resources for next steps as well. My goal isn’t necessarily to personally educate people, but instead to provide resources (my having said this lets you mark off the center square in your Law Library bingo card), and these resources serve well.

What do?

If someone is totally lost in the process or has some barrier that is otherwise stalling them (perhaps a Class A Felony), and honestly in many other situations, it’s best to talk to an actual expert. And with this situation, there are several local groups that can guide people through this process:

Why go it alone? I think the combination of (1) The Washington Courts guide, (2) A relevant Washington Law Help article/form packet, and (3) these agencies, most everyone can clear their record, insomuch as that is possible.

 

Ross’ Ref Q’s – How do I sue the President?

We get a lot of reference questions at the King County Law Library.
The refrain goes that because we aren’t practicing attorneys, we can’t offer legal advice—as librarians, we can only offer resources.
That said, some questions are very interesting & inspire me to do some research of my own, collected here in this column. Don’t construe this as legal advice!

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Welcome to the first edition of my column, Ross’ Ref Q’s, wherein interesting KCLL reference questions are interrogated. I’ve only been with the law library for two years (a bulk of which was during our COVID shutdown), and as such I’m still somewhat green with legal reference—my previous library experience was in municipal and community college libraries. I love this job because I’m always learning, and here in this column, perhaps you will learn something too. Or perhaps you will be entertained by my unsophisticated research; I’ll take what I can get!

A goal of this column is to highlight questions that might be pertinent to KCLL users— though to get the ball rolling I’ve chosen a reference question that is slightly off the wall, but is asked often enough to warrant attention:

How do I sue the President?

What I love about this question, which is the most common phrasing, is that it blows right past “CAN I sue the President,” which is a somewhat more interesting and tricky question. As procedural questions go, though, the can does impact the how, as we’ll see.

This is also a question that has received a fair amount of interest recently. These publications are worth a read, however in treating this column like an actual reference interview, in which I tend to prefer treatises over online articles or posts, I’ll simply leave these hyperlinks embedded for your casual perusal.

My first thought was about personal jurisdiction. Presidents have been sued before, but were they being sued as The President, or as private citizens who happened to be the President.

Before digging into this question, I was aware of such concepts as sovereign immunity, so I sought out a treatise on the subject. I found Rotunda and Nowak’s Treatise on Constitutional Law-Substance and Procedure on Westlaw, which as a Thomson publication seemed authoritative enough. §7.3(b) deals with “Absolute Versus Qualified Immunity from Civil Damage Claims.”

“The President should have absolute immunity from damage actions for his official actions so that the threat of personal liability does not affect his official judgment”

§ 7.3(b) Presidential Civil Damages Immunity, 1 Treatise on Const. L. § 7.3(b)

Emphasis theirs. So I see this question splits into two parts: suing the President for official acts, and for unofficial acts.

Suing the President for official acts

To sue the President for his official acts, which if I had to hazard a guess would be the aim for most of our inquiring patrons, is a bit of a dead end. Rotunda & Nowak go on to say that the Court grants “absolute immunity from civil damages because of his official actions.” Evidently injunctions and subpoenas are still on the table, but damages are not.

I had pulled up an American Jurisprudence explainer on the Federal Tort Claims Act, thinking it would dovetail nicely into the “official” side of things, but FTCA §1346(b) specifically requires monetary damages. So that’s out.

With only injunctions and subpoenas on the table, the official side starts to become less interesting. I wanted a L&O-style cross-examination, with The President floundering under Jack McCoy’s dogged questioning!

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65 deals with injunctions, and the Federal Judiciary website has pro se injunction paperwork. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are bursting at the seams with rules about discovery & subpoena, so if the reference interview was going that way, I would pull out Wright & Miller Federal Practice and Procedure to offer Rules Practice resources.

Suing the President for unofficial acts

This side, which is by nature apolitical, is also less interesting. From here, because we’re suing the President for unofficial acts, it’ll follow standard channels for jurisdiction.

If you’re suing for damages pertaining to federal law and/or you’re asking for at least $75,000 in damages, it’ll land in Federal Court. The reference interview ends with that hyperlinked Pro Se guide for United States District Court, Western District of Washington. It includes links to forms and explains overall procedures.

Alternatively, if thresholds such as Washington’s “long arm” statute are met, the case could land in state court. For that, I recommend using KCLL’s Starting a Civil Lawsuit in Superior Court form packet! Sunglasses emoji!

Lastly

I recommend coming in to either KCLL location to access not only the resources mentioned here, but also the existing case law on suing the president, via Westlaw (did you know that KCLL has three Westlaw terminals in the Seattle location, and two in Kent?). There have been relatively few lawsuits against Presidents, so it is worthwhile to note the channels used previously.

Best of luck!