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Are There Differences Between Sealed & Expunged Records?

Posted on April 2, 2024 in Arizona Revised Statutes,Expungement

Everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately, sometimes mistakes can leave you with a criminal record. Once you’ve been introduced to the criminal justice system, it can be difficult to remove the effects that a criminal record can have on your life, reputation, future and livelihood. 

If you want a fresh start, then you may have the ability to seal or set aside your Arizona criminal record.

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 your 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 if you have 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 must have 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?

Arizona did not have an option to hide criminal records until petitions to seal recently became available. Before this new law, the best option was a set aside, which is a designation on a person’s record, indicating complete compliance with sentencing terms. 

Setting aside a record is not the same as sealing or expunging a record. It refers to a note entered on your criminal record that states that the offense or arrest has been set aside. In general, this means that you have 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, however, cannot be set aside in Arizona. Nor can crimes against minors under the age of 15 and certain motor vehicle offenses.

New Arizona Marijuana Expungement and Record Sealing Laws 

As of January 1, 2023, two new laws went into effect in Arizona regarding expungement and record sealing. For the first time in Arizona, these laws make it possible for qualifying individuals to erase their criminal records. 

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 that individual’s 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, 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 or call us at (480) 456-6400, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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