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Are There Differences Between Sealed & Expunged Records?

Posted on July 22, 2022 in Arizona Revised Statutes,Expungement

Everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately, some people end up with permanent criminal records because of their bad decisions. Once you’ve been introduced to the criminal justice system, it can be difficult to remove the stain that it has on your life, reputation, future and livelihood. If you wish for a fresh start, a few different options for sealing or erasing your criminal record may be available to you in Arizona.

Record Sealing vs. Expungement

Sealing a criminal record means to conceal it from the general public. The public, including individuals, employers and landlords, cannot view or access a sealed record. This gives the impression that the record has been cleared or wiped away – but in reality, a sealed record still exists. It can still be accessed by certain law enforcement officials and the courts. A sealed record can also be reopened by way of a court order.

Record expungement, on the other hand, effectively removes, erases or eliminates an individual’s record of an arrest or criminal conviction. This makes it as if the arrest or charges never happened. Expungement acts as a reset button. It is an attractive opportunity for anyone who has had a run-in with the law. However, in states that permit record expungement, only certain individuals are eligible.

In general, state laws only permit the sealing or expungement of a criminal record if the crime involved is not violent or sexual in nature. Another eligibility requirement is often that the individual has fully completed any sentencing instructions given in connection to a crime. There may also be a waiting requirement of several years after the conviction or arrest to file for expungement.

What Does it Mean to “Set Aside” a Criminal Record in Arizona?

Until recently, Arizona’s only option for hiding or diminishing a criminal record was to “set the record aside.” Setting aside a record is not the same as sealing or expunging a record. It refers to a note entered on the individual’s criminal record that states that the offense or arrest has been set aside. In general, this means that the individual has fulfilled all of the terms of a related sentence and that a judge has set aside the judgment of guilt or dismissed the charging document.

A set aside can improve the appearance of your criminal record by showing employers, landlords and others who check your record that the offense was set aside. In essence, you can say that your case was dismissed, as a set aside effectively removes your judgment of guilt. This can help you find a job and housing and get a fresh start overall. Dangerous, violent and sex-related crimes cannot be set aside in Arizona, however; nor can crimes against minors under the age of 15 and certain motor vehicle offenses.

New Arizona Expungement Law Coming in January 2023

As of January 1, 2023, two new laws will go into effect in Arizona regarding record sealing and expungement. These laws will make it possible for qualifying individuals to erase their criminal records for the very first time in Arizona. The expungement law applies only to people with certain marijuana offenses on their criminal records, such as the possession of less than 2.5 ounces of marijuana or cultivating no more than 6 marijuana plants at a single residence. 

The new record-sealing law applies to a broader population. It states that a person can have his or her criminal record sealed – hidden entirely from public view – if he or she has completed all of the terms and conditions of the related sentence, the charges against the individual were dismissed, a criminal trial resulted in a not-guilty verdict, or no charges were filed after an arrest. Other individuals in Arizona may also be able to have their records sealed as of 2023, depending on the circumstances.

For more information about setting aside, sealing or expunging your criminal record in Arizona, contact AZ Defenders to request a free consultation with a lawyer.