RULES OF COURT
STATE SUPREME COURT
[June 8, 2023]
IN THE MATTER OF THE SUGGESTED AMENDMENTS TO GR 15—DESTRUCTION, SEALING, AND REDACTION OF COURT RECORDS
The Judicial Information Systems Committee's Data Dissemination Committee, having recommended the adoption of the suggested amendments to GR 15—Destruction, Sealing, and Redaction of Court Records, and the Court having considered the suggested amendments, and having determined that the suggested amendments will aid in the prompt and orderly administration of justice;
Now, therefore, it is hereby
(a) That the suggested amendments as shown below are adopted.
(b) That pursuant to the emergency provisions of GR 9 (j)(1), the suggested amendments will be expeditiously published in the Washington Reports and will become effective upon publication.
dated at Olympia, Washington this 8th day of June, 2023.
Gordon McCloud, J.
DESTRUCTION, SEALING, AND REDACTION OF COURT RECORDS
(a) Purpose and Scope of the Rule. This rule sets forth a uniform procedure for the destruction, sealing, and redaction of court records. This rule applies to all court records, regardless of the physical form of the court record, the method of recording the court record, or the method of storage of the court record.
(1) "Court file" means the pleadings, orders, and other papers filed with the clerk of the court under a single or consolidated cause number(s).
(2) "Court record" is defined in GR 31 (c)(4).
(3) Destroy. To destroy means to obliterate a court record or file in such a way as to make it permanently irretrievable. A motion or order to expunge shall be treated as a motion or order to destroy.
(4) Seal. To seal means to protect from examination by the public and unauthorized court personnel. A motion or order to delete, purge, remove, excise, erase, or redact shall be treated as a motion or order to seal.
(5) Redact. To redact means to protect from examination by the public and unauthorized court personnel a portion or portions of a specified court record.
(6) Restricted Personal Identifiers are defined in GR 22 (b)(6).
(7) Strike. A motion or order to strike is not a motion or order to seal or destroy.
(8) Vacate. To vacate means to nullify or cancel.
(c) Sealing or Redacting Court Records.
(1) In a civil case, the court or any party may request a hearing to seal or redact the court records. In a criminal case or juvenile proceeding, the court, any party, or any interested person may request a hearing to seal or redact the court records. Reasonable notice of a hearing to seal must be given to all parties in the case. In a criminal case, reasonable notice of a hearing to seal or redact must also be given to the victim, if ascertainable, and the person or agency having probationary, custodial, community placement, or community supervision over the affected adult or juvenile. No such notice is required for motions to seal documents entered pursuant to CrR 3.1(f) or CrRLJ 3.1(f).
(2) After the hearing, the court may order the court files and records in the proceeding, or any part thereof, to be sealed or redacted if the court makes and enters written findings that the specific sealing or redaction is justified by identified compelling privacy or safety concerns that outweigh the public interest in access to the court record. Agreement of the parties alone does not constitute a sufficient basis for the sealing or redaction of court records. Sufficient privacy or safety concerns that may be weighed against the public interest include findings that:
(A) The sealing or redaction is permitted by statute; or
(B) The sealing or redaction furthers an order entered under CR 12(f) or a protective order entered under CR 26(c); or
(C) A conviction has been vacated; or
(D) The sealing or redaction furthers an order entered pursuant to RCW 4.24.611
(E) The redaction includes only restricted personal identifiers contained in the court record; or
(F) Another identified compelling circumstance exists that requires the sealing or redaction.
(3) A court record shall not be sealed under this section when redaction will adequately resolve the issues before the court pursuant to subsection (2) above.
(4) Sealing of Entire Court File. When the clerk receives a court order to seal the entire court file, the clerk shall seal the court file and secure it from public access. All court records filed thereafter shall also be sealed unless otherwise ordered. The existence of a court file sealed in its entirety, unless protected by statute, is available for viewing by the public on court indices. The information on the court indices is limited to the case number, names of the parties, the notation "case sealed," the case type and cause of action in civil cases and the cause of action or charge in criminal cases, except where the conviction in a criminal case has been vacated, section (d) shall apply. The order to seal and written findings supporting the order to seal shall also remain accessible to the public, unless protected by statute.
COMMENT: See, e.g. Chapter 13.50 RCW, which requires that sealed juvenile adjudications be "treated as if they never occurred", and no information can be given about the existence or nonexistence of records concerning an individual.
(5) Sealing of Specified Court Records. When the clerk receives a court order to seal specified court records the clerk shall:
(A) On the docket, preserve the docket code, document title, document or subdocument number and date of the original court records;
(B) Remove the specified court records, seal them, and return them to the file under seal or store separately. The clerk shall substitute a filler sheet for the removed sealed court record. If the court record ordered sealed exists in a microfilm, microfiche or other storage medium form other than paper, the clerk shall restrict access to the alternate storage medium so as to prevent unauthorized viewing of the sealed court record; and
(C) File the order to seal and the written findings supporting the order to seal. Both shall be accessible to the public.
(D) Before a court file is made available for examination, the clerk shall prevent access to the sealed court records.
(6) Procedures for Redacted Court Records. When a court record is redacted pursuant to a court order, the original court record shall be replaced in the public court file by the redacted copy. The redacted copy shall be provided by the moving party. The original unredacted court record shall be sealed following the procedures set forth in (c)(5).
(d) Procedures for Vacated Criminal Convictions. In cases where a criminal conviction has been vacated and an order to seal entered, unless protected by statute, the information in the public court indices shall be limited to the case number, case type with the notification "DV" if the case involved domestic violence, the adult or juvenile's name, and the notation "vacated."
COMMENT: See, e.g. Chapter 13.50 RCW, which requires that sealed juvenile adjudications be "treated as if they never occurred", and no information can be given about the existence or nonexistence of records concerning an individual. Per State v. Garza (2022), a juvenile adjudication is an order and finding within the meaning of Chapter 13.50 RCW and is eligible for vacation.
(e) Grounds and Procedure for Requesting the Unsealing of Sealed Records.
(1) Sealed court records may be examined by the public only after the court records have been ordered unsealed pursuant to this section or after entry of a court order allowing access to a sealed court record.
(2) Criminal Cases. A sealed court record in a criminal case shall be ordered unsealed only upon proof of compelling circumstances, unless otherwise provided by statute, and only upon motion and written notice to the persons entitled to notice under subsection (c)(1) of this rule except:
(A) If a new criminal charge is filed and the existence of the conviction contained in a sealed record is an element of the new offense, or would constitute a statutory sentencing enhancement, or provide the basis for an exceptional sentence, upon application of the prosecuting attorney the court shall nullify the sealing order in the prior sealed case(s).
(B) If a petition is filed alleging that a person is a sexually violent predator, upon application of the prosecuting attorney the court shall nullify the sealing order as to all prior criminal records of that individual.
(3) Civil Cases. A sealed court record in a civil case shall be ordered unsealed only upon stipulation of all parties or upon motion and written notice to all parties and proof that identified compelling circumstances for continued sealing no longer exist, or pursuant to RCW 4.24 or CR 26(j). If the person seeking access cannot locate a party to provide the notice required by this rule, after making a good faith reasonable effort to provide such notice as required by the Superior Court Rules, an affidavit may be filed with the court setting forth the efforts to locate the party and requesting waiver of the notice provision of this rule. The court may waive the notice requirement of this rule if the court finds that further good faith efforts to locate the party are not likely to be successful.
(4) Juvenile Proceedings
. Inspection of a sealed juvenile court record is permitted only by order of the court upon motion made by the person who is the subject of the record, except as otherwise provided in RCW 13.50.010
(8) and 13.50.050
(23). Any adjudication of a juvenile offense or a crime subsequent to sealing has the effect of nullifying the sealing order, pursuant to RCW 13.50.050
(f) Maintenance of Sealed Court Records.
Sealed court records are subject to the provisions of RCW 36.23.065
and can be maintained in mediums other than paper.
(g) Use of Sealed Records on Appeal. A court record or any portion of it, sealed in the trial court shall be made available to the appellate court in the event of an appeal. Court records sealed in the trial court shall be sealed from public access in the appellate court subject to further order of the appellate court.
(h) Destruction of Court Records.
(1) The court shall not order the destruction of any court record unless expressly permitted by statute. The court shall enter written findings that cite the statutory authority for the destruction of the court record.
(2) In a civil case, the court or any party may request a hearing to destroy court records only if there is express statutory authority permitting the destruction of the court records. In a criminal case or juvenile proceeding, the court, any party, or any interested person may request a hearing to destroy the court records only if there is express statutory authority permitting the destruction of the court records. Reasonable notice of the hearing to destroy must be given to all parties in the case. In a criminal case, reasonable notice of the hearing must also be given to the victim, if ascertainable, and the person or agency having probationary, custodial, community placement, or community supervision over the affected adult or juvenile.
(3) When the clerk receives a court order to destroy the entire court file the clerk shall:
(A) Remove all references to the court records from any applicable information systems maintained for or by the clerk except for accounting records, the order to destroy, and the written findings. The order to destroy and the supporting written findings shall be filed and available for viewing by the public.
(B) The accounting records shall be sealed.
(1) When the clerk receives a court order to destroy specified court records the clerk shall;
(A) On the automated docket, destroy any docket code information except any document or sub-document number previously assigned to the court record destroyed, and enter "Order Destroyed" for the docket entry;
(B) Destroy the appropriate court records, substituting, when applicable, a printed or other reference to the order to destroy, including the date, location, and document number of the order to destroy; and
(C) File the order to destroy and the written findings supporting the order to destroy. Both the order and the findings shall be publicly accessible.
(5) This subsection shall not prevent the routine destruction of court records pursuant to applicable preservation and retention schedules.
(i) Trial Exhibits. Notwithstanding any other provision of this rule, trial exhibits may be destroyed or returned to the parties if all parties so stipulate in writing and the court so orders.
(j) Effect on Other Statutes. Nothing in this rule is intended to restrict or to expand the authority of clerks under existing statutes, nor is anything in this rule intended to restrict or expand the authority of any public auditor, or the Commission on Judicial Conduct, in the exercise of duties conferred by statute.
Reviser's note: The typographical error in the above section occurred in the copy filed by the agency and appears in the Register pursuant to the requirements of RCW 34.08.040.