Washington Lawmakers Pass the New Hope Act

Concept of liberation with a dove escaping by breaking its chains. - Campbell Law Firm

A criminal conviction can complicate a person’s life - even after they are released back into their communities.

It is more difficult to find a place to live, buy insurance, or volunteer in the community with a criminal conviction on your record. In fact, almost anytime there is a criminal background check, it can be almost impossible for someone with a criminal conviction to participate.

Washington’s New Hope Act will change that by bringing down barriers to re-entry for people with criminal convictions.

Signed into law on May 9, 2019 by Governor Inslee, the New Hope Act eases re-entry problems faced by people with criminal convictions by simplifying the process for obtaining certificates of discharge and vacating conviction records. The New Hope Act reduces the amount of time necessary to vacate a person’s criminal record, and will be especially important for people convicted of violent crimes such as assault and robbery. The Act went into effect on July 28, 2019.

Why Was The New Hope Act Passed Now?

The New Hope Act is the result of many factors, including a nationwide softening stance on crime, as well as a recognition that it is increasingly difficult for people who have been incarcerated to get back on their feet, and that services to help people who have been incarcerated reduce recidivism rates.

In addition, state lawmakers are looking for cheaper ways to address capacity problems in the Department of Corrections.

Who Does the New Hope Act Apply To?

The New Hope Act applies to people with an adult criminal conviction for a felony or misdemeanor that has not already been vacated. The New Hope Act does not apply to cases involving juvenile records, gun rights, or dismissed cases.

The New Hope Act allows people with violent crimes such as assault and robbery to seek the benefit of the record clearing process, and reduces the number of years it takes to clear a person’s criminal record. It also allows individuals to vacate multiple misdemeanor offenses from their records.

What Does the New Hope Act Do?

Prior to passage of the New Hope Act people who were incarcerated needed to wait between 3 and 10 years - depending on the severity of the crime - after paying off any fees or fines associated with their conviction before being able to petition a judge to clear their record. Now, the waiting period starts as soon as they are released instead of waiting for payment in full. For individuals who do not serve any time in confinement or partial confinement and are not subject to community custody, the clock starts at the date of sentencing.

Many people with criminal convictions just ignore the problem, living with the consequences of a criminal conviction. Others would make minimum payments of $5 to $10 per month, which meant it took years, even a lifetime, to pay off debts.

This would only exacerbate problems with re-entry because people with criminal convictions often have difficulty finding work. The cycle repeats itself as people cannot pay their fines because they cannot find work. Then they end up re-offending.

Now, some people with criminal convictions can seek to have their convictions vacated immediately upon payment of all fines and court costs.

Vacating a criminal conviction still requires a judge’s approval, but the New Hope Act reduces the amount of time it takes to go through the process and expands the types of conviction that can be vacated.

What Does It Mean to Have a Conviction Vacated?

Vacating a conviction means that the guilty finding is set aside and the charges are dismissed. You are released from all penalties and disabilities associated with the conviction that is being vacated; however, firearm rights must be restored in a separate process. The conviction is removed from your criminal record and you are allowed to answer that you have never been convicted of that crime. The court record remains public, but the status of the charge changes from “guilty” to “vacated.”

Vacating Felony Convictions

People with class C felonies must still wait 5 years and people with a class B felony must wait ten years from the date they were sentenced, released from confinement, or released from DOC supervision, whichever occurred last.

In addition, the New Hope Act allows convictions for second degree robbery, second degree assault, and third degree assault to be vacated, as long as the conviction did not have a firearm enhancement, a deadly weapon enhancement, a sexual motivation enhancement, and did not involve a police officer.

In some cases, if you pay your fines immediately, you could become immediately eligible to vacate your conviction.

Conviction of a crime after the crime you wish to have vacated may have an impact on your ability to have a conviction vacated, but not forever. Even with a subsequent conviction, you may still be eligible to vacate your conviction if you have no convictions in the last five years for a class C felony or in the last ten years if you wish to vacate a class B felony.

Even if you do have conviction in the last five years, you may still be eligible to vacate some of the convictions.

Vacating Misdemeanor Convictions

The New Hope Act eliminates the “once in a lifetime” limit. You can now vacate as many convictions as are eligible. However, domestic violence misdemeanors are not eligible if you have more than one domestic violence misdemeanor from separate incidents.

You no longer need to vacate the most recent conviction and instead can vacate the convictions of your choice.

You must still wait three years from non-domestic violence misdemeanors and five years for domestic violence misdemeanors from the date you completed all conditions of your sentence, including probation and payment of all fines, and you must pay off all outstanding fines before the waiting period starts.

A misdemeanor DUI cannot be vacated, and a pleaded down DUI can be vacated after a ten year waiting period from the date of the incident.

Vacating a Criminal Conviction Can Ease Barriers to Re-entry

The New Hope Act gives people convicted of a crime a second chance after paying their debt to society and removes barriers to re-entry posed by a criminal record, such as problems finding suitable housing, employment, education, and volunteering to work with children.

The New Hope Act helps to remove these barriers by making it easier to obtain a certificate of discharge, allowing multiple misdemeanors to be vacated, and allowing additional felony convictions to be vacated.

How a Lawyer Can Help

If you or a family member needs help having a criminal conviction vacated, the Campbell Law Firm can help.

Washington criminal defense attorney Justin Campbell has helped hundreds of people throughout northwest Washington, including Anacortes, Mount Vernon, Burlington, and Sedro-Woolley, as well as Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Langley, Freeland, Clinton, and Friday Harbor who have faced criminal charges.

Learn more about why clients choose us, or contact attorney Justin Campbell today by calling (360) 588-4111, emailing info@lawjrc.com, or completing our online form to schedule a free 90-minute consultation to discuss your case.