A person acquires a criminal record in Washington State the first time they are arrested and fingerprinted by law enforcement, and any subsequent criminal charges will be added to the person’s record. All information about arrests and convictions is forwarded to the Washington State Patrol (WSP), which maintains the state’s central repository for criminal history record information.
Criminal records are public records in Washington State, and a person can search for the criminal history conviction record of anyone using the fee-based Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH) service.
What is a criminal record?
A criminal record is an official document detailing a person’s criminal convictions, pending criminal cases, prior arrests, and other interactions with law enforcement agencies. Additional names for a criminal record include criminal history record, rap sheet, and a police record.
As with marriage records and court records, criminal records are generally public records in the United States and can be accessed through a criminal background check. However, public access to specific criminal record information varies from state to state.
In the State of Washington, most criminal records are available to the general public to be used for any purpose.
What is included in a Washington criminal record?
As criminal records are kept by law enforcement agencies at all levels of government in the United States, a Washington criminal record may vary in format and content depending on the law enforcement database from which it is accessed.
Generally, a Washington criminal record will include the following information:
- A person’s full name and possible aliases
- Personal information such as age, date of birth, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, and other physical characteristics
- Fingerprints and mugshot
- Misdemeanor criminal offenses and convictions
- Felony criminal offenses and convictions
However, a public Washington State criminal records search will not return non-conviction data, such as in the case of a charge being dismissed.
Why would someone access a criminal record?
There are many reasons to access a criminal record.
- Most commonly, people search criminal records as a way to run a background check on a particular person.
- They’re also used by law enforcement to identify or locate people involved in unsolved crimes or by the court system to determine an appropriate sentence after a conviction.
- An individual may want to access his or her own record as well. It’s not uncommon for people to request their own criminal records to see what information is public.
- In some cases, a record could be inaccurate or include outdated information. If that’s the case, it’s important to have the record corrected.
What’s the difference between an infraction, misdemeanor, and felony?
Arrests and convictions listed on a criminal record are separated into three categories: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.
To give a better understanding of the information listed on a criminal record, here’s a quick overview of each category of offense:
- Infraction – An infraction is a minor violation of the law that is regulated at the state level. Punishment for an infraction is usually just a fine or a written warning, rather than a jail or prison sentence. Examples of infractions include minor traffic violations, public nuisance offenses, and littering.
- Misdemeanor – A misdemeanor is a crime that is more serious than an infraction, yet less serious than a felony. Generally, a misdemeanor punishable by a term of imprisonment of less than a year, or by a term of probation. An individual convicted of a misdemeanor is more likely to serve time in a county or local jail than in a federal or state prison. Examples of misdemeanors include driving under the influence, most drug abuse violations, and petty theft.
- Felony – A felony is the most serious type of crime, often characterized by the use of a weapon during a crime, serious injury to a victim, and/or holding a person against their will. Felony convictions typically result in a term of imprisonment of more than one year in a state or federal prison. Examples of felonies include rape, murder, and grand theft.
What is the difference between a Washington arrest record and a Washington criminal record?
While an arrest record is an official document including the details of a specific arrest, a criminal record is a more comprehensive document that includes a person’s entire criminal background known to law enforcement agencies.
How do I search for a Washington criminal record?
The Washington State Patrol Identification and Criminal History Section (WASIS) has established Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH), a fee-based search service that can be used to perform a criminal background check on anyone.
Here’s an overview of WATCH:
- A single name-based search costs $11, which can be paid using a debit or credit card. The first step is to establish a new credit card account on the site. Searches are non-refundable regardless of whether the search yields criminal records or not.
- A WATCH search is based on the exact full name and date of birth matches.
- A search will yield either a list of records under the search subject’s name, a “NO RECORD” or “NO EXACT MATCH FOUND” response, or a “DUPLICATE MATCH” response meaning that there are two or more exact name/date of birth matches.
- WATCH searches return Washington State criminal history information, only.
- Registered non-profit organizations may be exempt from paying a fee under certain circumstances. View the FAQs page for more information.
In addition to name-based criminal record searches, the WSP offers a number of other services through the WATCH website, including $58 fingerprint-based background checks (see this page for participating fingerprint locations, services may be affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), $32 mailed name-based background checks, and $10 notary requests.
How do I obtain a physical copy of a Washington criminal record?
A physical copy of a Washington criminal record will be sent to your address if you submit a mailed name-based or fingerprint-based criminal background check. If you perform a criminal background check using WATCH, you will receive electronic results, only, and must print a physical copy by yourself.
Why can’t I access a Washington criminal record?
There is a number of possible reasons why a Washington criminal background check may yield a negative response, including:
- The subject does not have a criminal record in Washington.
- The subject has a criminal record under a different name, or their name is spelled differently in the database.
- The subject has a criminal conviction that was not reported to WASIS by the law enforcement agency responsible for the arrest.
How do I search for Washington criminal case court records?
The Washington Courts System provides the Search Case Records service which can be used by members of the general public to search Washington Superior Court and District Court case records. Users can search by case number, person name, attorney, or business name.
If you can’t find the record you are looking for using the search, the next step is to make a direct request to the court clerk of the court that processed the case. You can use this court directory to look up the addresses and phone numbers of every court in Washington State.
Does Washington allow criminal records to be sealed or expunged?
RCW 10.97.060 outlines the circumstances in which an individual may request an expungement of criminal charges in Washington State. In particular, criminal charges that do not result in convictions are eligible for expungement. Print, complete and submit a Request for Expungement Deletion of Non-Conviction Records form to the Criminal History Records Section to apply for expungement.
Additionally, there are situations where juvenile records may be sealed or expunged in the state. View this page for more information.
How can I have false information on a Washington criminal record corrected?
In order to challenge incorrect information on your Washington criminal record, you may complete and submit a Request For Modification of Record form to WASIS.
For further information on submitting a challenge, contact the Identification and Criminal History Section at (360) 534-2000 and choose Option 5. The Section can also be reached via email at [email protected].
How long are Washington criminal records kept on file?
Washington convictions will remain in the state’s central repository of criminal history information and be accessible to the public indefinitely unless a successful request to seal or expunge the record is passed.