Sealed Juvenile Records and Firearm Rights in Washington

Criminal records, especially felony convictions, can have an ongoing impact on a person’s life.  Convictions can affect a person’s rights, including the right to possess firearms. Washington criminal defense attorneys know that getting a juvenile record sealed can restore certain rights.

In a recent case, a Washington appeals court found that sealed juvenile adjudications do not preclude a person from possessing a firearm.  The petitioner in this case had been found guilty of two class A felonies as a juvenile.  Many years later, the court sealed those records.  The petitioner was subsequently denied a concealed pistol license (CPL) on the basis of those felony adjudications.  He petitioned for a writ of mandamus to compel the sheriff to issue the CPL, but the superior court denied the petition.  He appealed.

The court found that the petitioner met the requirements of RCW 13.50.260 and ordered that the official juvenile court record, social file, and related agency records be sealed.  The court also entered a subsequent order stating that the petitioner qualified for restoration of his firearm rights.

The petitioner’s application for a CPL was denied based on his juvenile class A felony adjudications.  He petitioned for a writ of mandamus, arguing the sheriff had a duty to issue a CPL unless the law prohibited the applicant from possessing a firearm.  He argued that the juvenile adjudications could not be considered because the statute provides that sealed adjudications are to “be treated as if they never occurred.”  He also argued federal law did not prohibit him from possessing a firearm because federal law defers to the jurisdiction of conviction to determine if there is a “conviction” for purposes of federal firearm law.  The court denied his petition for a writ of mandamus and he appealed.

On appeal, the petitioner argued the writ of mandamus was improperly denied.  He argued the sheriff should have issued the CPL because the sealed adjudications are treated like they do not exist and therefore do not prohibit him from firearm possession.  The sheriff, however, argued the petitioner’s firearm rights were not restored by sealing the juvenile record.  The sheriff argued the petitioner is not eligible to possess a firearm pursuant to RCW 9.41.040.

To obtain a writ of mandamus, a petitioner must show that there was a clear duty for the other party to act, that the petitioner does not have a plain, fast, and adequate remedy under the ordinary course of the law, and that the petitioner is beneficially interested.  The primary issue, as identified by the appeals court, was whether the sheriff had a clear duty to issue the CPL.

Pursuant to the sealing statute, a person can petition the court to order the sealing of the records.  After the court issues the order, the proceedings are to be treated as though they never occurred.  Furthermore, case law has held that once the juvenile records and adjudications are sealed, the juvenile offender is to be treated as not having “previously been convicted” for firearm purposes.

RCW 9.41.070 provides that the county sheriff shall issue a CPL to an applicant.  It further states that the applicant’s constitutional right to bear arms can only be denied under certain circumstances, including ineligibility to possess a firearm under state or federal law.

In Washington, a person is prohibited from possessing a firearm if he or she has “previously been convicted. . . of any serious offense. . .”  RCW 9.41.040. The statute further provides that a person is not prohibited from possessing a firearm if the conviction has been pardoned, annulled, or there has been an equivalent procedure based on a finding of rehabilitation or innocence.  In this case, it was undisputed that the class A felonies had been “serious offenses.”

The appeals court then considered previous cases involving sealed records and firearm rights.  Those cases held that the statute provides that the sealed proceedings are treated as if they never occurred.  The conviction, therefore, must also be treated as though it never occurred.  If the conviction does not exist, then the person may possess firearms legally.

The sheriff argued the Washington case considered by the court was no longer good law due to the amendments to the statute that occurred since the decision.  The appeals court noted, however, that the language that sealed adjudications are “treated as if they never occurred” has not been changed.

The appeals court found the sheriff had a legal duty to issue the CPL to the petitioner.  The petitioner met the statutory conditions to have his juvenile records sealed and the court had properly sealed them.  The juvenile proceedings therefore should have been treated as though they had never occurred.  He was therefore not prohibited from possessing a firearm or receiving a CPL.  The sheriff breached the duty by denying the CPL.

The appeals court reversed and remanded, with instructions for the lower court to grant the writ of mandamus.

This case shows how a juvenile offense can have ongoing consequences, as well as one way to mitigate some of those consequences.  If you have a criminal law issue, a skilled Washington criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Deferred Disposition Records May Be Sealed Prior to Juvenile’s 18th Birthday

Sealing, Vacating, or Expunging Your Criminal Record