A record sealing law will be enacted in Arizona starting Jan. 1 2023 which includes sealing arrest, conviction and sentencing records. Previous offenders will be able to file a motion to seal their records based on the type of crime committed and conditions of punishment.
If the court grants the petition to seal the record, it will be closed off to the public and only law enforcement will be able to view the record.
Bret Royle is a criminal defense lawyer in Phoenix. Royle said matters of record sealing will impact the lives of previous offenders who want a fresh start.
“If you were to get a DUI, you now have a criminal record and have to tell employers about this, because it will show up when searching your name,” Royle said. “The idea that you can clean up your public image or online image is really important.”
Although the record sealing law will be beneficial to many with a current criminal record, there will be limitations. The severity of the type of crime committed and how long ago it took place will impact when someone can file a motion to have their records sealed.
The waiting period before someone can petition to have their record sealed will increase depending on the severity of the crime.
Other laws in Arizona allow certain offenders to be eligible for a similar process. These are known as expungement and set aside. Expungement allows offenders to expunge certain crimes from their record. Set aside allows offenders to set aside their record and show they have completed all terms of the sentence they were charged with.
“The process of expungement is incredibly easy,” Cirzan said. “Not everything in our justice system is quick and easy to accomplish, but expungement is not that way. I encourage everybody that has marijuana-related history to create a petition to file with the court.”
When setting aside convictions, civil rights, such as the right to vote, right to sit on a jury and right to bear arms, can be restored. Set aside does not mean a person no longer has a criminal record. It shows the person charged with the sentence and has no pending charges on their record.
“A client who had a criminal history related to marijuana was preventing him from getting food stamps,” Cirzan said. “We were able to get the expungement paperwork filed, prior offenses were expunged and the day after he told me how he was able to get his food stamps. He was happy now to be able to go to the grocery store and buy food.”
Along with these three laws, a class 6 felony can be designated down to a class 1 misdemeanor. A class 6 felony is the lowest grade felony attainable, and one can petition to have the crime moved down to a misdemeanor, meaning they no longer have to declare themselves a felon.
“Some criminals need to be denoted as someone you should watch out for, but the rest of the people are good people who made a mistake,” Royle said. “You shouldn’t have to live under the veil of this conviction because it impacts massive parts of your life that are taken away over a one time mistake.”
If an offender commits another crime after having their conviction set aside, the previous crime can still be used to enhance the punishment of a new offense. Therefore, this law is useful for criminals as long as another crime is not committed.
Royle said a landlord or employer would much rather hire someone with a prior conviction if the record shows that all terms of the sentence have been completed. “If I am a landlord or employer and want to hire someone with a prior conviction, I would much rather see that the conviction has been taken care of and has no pending charges, which is what the set aside does,” Royle said.
These opportunities offer different options depending on the crime committed and terms of sentence. They all may be beneficial in improving one’s employment and housing situation and helping restore their civil rights.