Washington state’s “New Hope Act” paves the way for Rep. Tarra Simmons and others to clear criminal records
September 11, 2023
“Tarra Simmons didn’t sleep well for a week, in preparation for a Friday Superior Court hearing. That was the place the 23rd District legislator, attorney and, until Friday, [person with a felony conviction], would have a case heard to vacate her criminal history.
“‘I can’t believe it’s finally here,’ Simmons said during the week approaching her hearing. ‘I haven’t been able to completely heal from that whole thing. You can’t heal when you’re so worried about how you’re going to provide for yourself when you get out of (prison) because prisons are an oppressive and traumatizing place to be. You’re exposed to violence if you’re not victimized yourself, you’re talked down to by the staff and the guards because you’re quote-unquote a bad person.’
“Long before she became a state representative, Simmons struggled with a traumatic upbringing and a substance abuse disorder that led her incarceration for more than three years for an assortment of crimes. After she was released from prison in 2013 following convictions on theft and drug crimes, Simmons trained as a nurse, graduated from Seattle University School of Law, became a member of the Washington State Bar Association and was elected to the state legislature.
“Though Simmons feels safe and secure many years out of prison now, her criminal history has followed her into many aspects of her life, from volunteering at her children’s schools to renting an AirBnB, crossing international borders or being an executor of her mother’s estate.
Finally having these convictions off my record, I’ll no longer have to face the rejections that I face in all these ways.
“‘When I think about today, finally having these convictions off my record, I’ll no longer have to face the rejections that I face in all these ways,’ Simmons said. ‘It’s a legal act, but it’s also healing and gives me more security that I’ll be able to always provide for my kids based on my own merit, my own qualifications, and I will no longer be subjected to abuse, exploitation. I won’t be part of an underclass.’
“On Friday Judge Kevin Hull presided over the State v. Simmons, a case that vacated her criminal history before a full courtroom in Port Orchard and online attendance. Among those watching were Washington Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu, former Washington Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge and Mike McCready, lead guitarist for Pearl Jam. …
“The bill expanded the types of convictions that could be vacated previously, including second-degree felony assault, of which Simmons was convicted, third-degree assault when not committed against police, and second-degree felony robbery as long as it wasn’t committed with a deadly weapon or was sexually motivated.
“The bill doesn’t automatically clear anyone’s criminal history, but makes it easier for someone to request a court vacate their convictions after they’ve been crime-free for a period of time. The bill also makes it easier for [a person with a criminal record] to get a certificate of discharge to show they’ve satisfied the conditions of their sentence.”
(Photo above from Kitsap Sun)