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What to Know About Arizona’s New Law on Sealing Criminal Convictions

March 25, 2022

If you have been convicted of a crime, you may be worried about the data appearing on your public records. Historically in the state of Arizona, most conviction records could not be sealed and were accessible to the public. However, the court has passed a new law that will allow the sealing of certain criminal convictions. Here’s what you need to know about Arizona’s new record sealing policy. 

What does it mean to ‘seal’ a criminal conviction? 

In legal terms, sealing refers to the process of concealing or eliminating a court record from public view. If a record has been sealed, it cannot be accessed by the general public. Depending on the state and the nature of the conviction, a representative of the law or the government may still be able to view the record. To do so, however, they must complete a requisition process. Typically, a court must vote to ‘unseal’ the record before it can be read again. Note that sealing does not equal expungement: An expunged record is destroyed and cannot be accessed by anyone, regardless of position or status. 

What is Arizona’s new record sealing policy?

Before this new legislation, Arizona courts and record repositories had no ability to keep the public from accessing conviction records. This oversight was amended when the courts passed a new bill in July of 2021 that will take effect on January 1, 2023. 

The new law will make many conviction records eligible for sealing. Certain serious offenses are not included in the policy, such as Class 1 felonies and specific sexual or violent crimes. Your lawyer can determine if your conviction record merits a sealing application. 

How can a conviction record be sealed under the new law? 

After a conviction has been made, the interested party must petition the court to seal the relevant record. A court clerk will notify the original prosecutor, who may inform the victim of the defendant. A 30-day waiting period will apply to the petition unless the prosecutor and the victim allow it to be reviewed right away. 

Once the court has received the petition, the Arizona Department of Public Safety will compile a list of the convicted individual’s legal history. This can include previous arrests, prosecutions, and convictions on both the federal and state levels. The report may also detail other pertinent information that the court has specifically requested or that the Department of Public Safety deems relevant. 

Once the report is complete, the prosecutor or victim can request a legal hearing. If neither party does so, the court can approve the petition if it believes that “granting the petition is in the best interests of the petitioner and the public’s safety”. The petitioner may have to pay a fee for both the actual legal investigation and the sealing process, if approved. If the court denies a sealing petition, the convicted party may try to have their record sealed again after a period of three years. In most cases, a sealing denial cannot be appealed. 

Does the new policy apply to non-conviction records?

In addition to criminal convictions, Arizona’s new sealing policy will also apply to non-conviction records. Examples of non-convictions can include uncharged arrests, dismissed, and acquitted charges. Before the law was enacted, Arizona courts had no power to seal non-conviction records from public access. 

The application process for sealing a non-conviction record is extremely similar to a conviction record. The prosecutor or victim can still request a rebuttal hearing, and the court’s selection criteria will remain the same. The court must decide that sealing the record is in the best interest of both the petitioner and the security of the general public. There is one major difference: The Department of Public Safety is not allowed to charge a fee for the preliminary investigation and sealing of a non-conviction record. 

It is important to note that Arizona’s original non-conviction sealing laws still apply until January 1, 2023. Before that date, a non-conviction record may only be sealed if the defendant was wrongfully arrested, indicted, or charged. 

Contact Janet AltschulerJanet Altschuler has been defending the residents of Tucson, AZ, and the surrounding areas for over twenty years. With her proven experience, you can rest assured that you have a reliable advocate both in and out of the courtroom. To schedule a free consultation, you can call 520-247-1789.

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