Because a criminal record can hamper a person's ability to get a job, housing, financial aid, loan, or professional license, expunging or sealing those records can provide a pathway to a better life. Under Arizona law, a person with an expunged or sealed record can legally state that they've never been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of that offense, subject to certain exceptions that will be discussed below.
In Arizona, a person may ask the court to expunge or seal* certain criminal records. The terms "expunge" and "seal" have specific and different meanings under Arizona law.
Expunge. The expungement process applies only to certain low-level marijuana convictions pre-dating November 30, 2020. Expunged records are no longer accessible to the public, courts, or law enforcement for any reason.
Sealing. Starting in January 2023, Arizona law will allow eligible convictions and criminal records to be sealed. Sealed records will be hidden from public view but still accessible to criminal justice agencies and certain employers for sensitive positions.
Arizona voters passed Prop. 207 back in 2020, legalizing certain adult recreational use of marijuana. Under the new law, people with old marijuana convictions or delinquency adjudications can ask the court to expunge records that involved the following:
This expungement law only applies to offenses committed before November 30, 2020.
The individual seeking expungement must file a petition with the court where the arrest occurred or the case was heard. The court will then notify the prosecutor's office, and if no response is received in 30 days, the petition must be granted. The Arizona Judicial Branch has petition forms and information online.
(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 36-2862 (2022).)
Starting January 1, 2023, a person can petition the court to seal (not expunge) eligible felony and misdemeanor criminal records. For most purposes, sealed records will be hidden from public view, and the person can state they were never arrested, charged, or convicted of the sealed offense.
Under the new law, individuals can ask the court to seal all case records relating to:
In other words, any case not resulting in a conviction (the first two bullets) will be eligible for sealing. And misdemeanor convictions and many felony convictions may be eligible if and once all requirements are met (discussed next).
To be eligible for sealing of records, a person cannot have been sentenced as a dangerous offender or convicted of the following offenses:
For eligible convictions, the person must (1) complete all the terms of the sentence, including probation and payment of fines and restitution, (2) complete a wait period, and (3) not be subsequently convicted of another offense. (Misdemeanor traffic offenses don't count as a subsequent conviction unless DUI-related.)
The following wait periods apply after the person completes their sentence:
Anyone with a prior felony conviction must wait an additional five years.
Once the person meets all the conditions listed above, they can petition the court to seal their records. They will need to file the petition in the court where the conviction occurred or in the jurisdiction where the arrest took place or charges were filed.
The court will provide a copy of the petition to the prosecutor. Unless the prosecutor or victim objects, the court may grant the petition without a hearing after 30 days have passed. To grant the petition, the court must decide that sealing the records is in the best interests of the individual and public safety. The Arizona Judicial Branch has forms and information online for the sealing of criminal records.
Unlike expunged records in Arizona, sealed records are still available for certain uses. Below are some examples.
If the person commits a later offense, police, prosecutors, and judges can use the sealed records in future trials and for future charging and sentencing decisions.
A person cannot deny the existence of sealed records when applying for:
The law also prohibits a person from denying the existence of a sealed record that's related to certain sensitive positions. Examples of these positions and related convictions include those where a person would be:
(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-911 (2022).)
In many cases, a person can fill out the petition and file it with the court without the help of a lawyer. The Arizona Judicial Branch website has detailed information online for sealing and expunging records. However, court employees can't provide legal advice. If you need assistance or have additional questions, contact a criminal defense lawyer or legal aid organization that works on sealing and expungement issues.