Almost 80 percent of employers conduct background checks on job applicants, and many employers deny employment to those with criminal records. Additionally, criminal records can prevent people from getting housing or student loans.
However, people may take steps to lessen how much their criminal records impact their lives. In many states the process is called expungement. Arizona doesn't have expungement, the closest that we have is a set aside. Not all offenses are eligible for a set aside in Arizona and people considering petitioning for a set aside of their criminal records should understand not only the benefits but limitations involved in doing so.
Eligibility For an Arizona Set Aside
In order to petition for a set aside in Arizona, a person needs to have met the terms of the sentence for the offense. In other words, all jail time, parole or probation periods must be complete and fines must all be paid.
A person can petition to set aside offenses ranging from felonies to misdemeanors, including Arizona driving offenses like DUI. However, if a person has been convicted of two or more felonies, or has been sentenced to prison, he or she must wait two years before petitioning the court for a set aside. Additionally, the law also excludes some offenses from set asides, such as:
- Offenses involving serious bodily injury
- Offenses using dangerous instruments or displaying a deadly weapon
- Sexually motivated offenses or offenses requiring a person to register on the sex offender registry
- Offenses including driving on a cancelled or suspended license
- An offense where the victim was under the age of fifteen
An offense involving a violation of a local ordinance dealing with standing, stopping or operation of a vehicle
The Limitations of a Set Aside
Set-asides, unfortunately, come with limitations. It's important for individuals to understand the limits of a set-aside.
- Erasing a conviction: In Arizona, obtaining a set aside will, unfortunately, not erase the conviction from an individual's criminal record. If another person or entity performs a background check, the conviction may still appear on the record. However, it will also indicate that the charges were dismissed. In a set aside, the court has vacated judgment and dismissed the charges.
- Employment disclosure: Additionally, an individual who obtains a set may have to explain the arrest because the arrest can not be dismissed. Most companies, however, are more concerned with convictions.
- Evidence in future offenses / penalties: The state can also still use set-aside convictions in prosecutions for future offenses. The set aside will also not affect penalties the Department of Transportation imposes, such as a driver's license revocation.
Right to vote / own a handgun: Further, a person who obtains a set aside of a second felony conviction does not automatically have his or her civil rights restored, such as the right to vote. There is a separate petitioning process that is needed to complete. Additionally, a set aside does not automatically return a person's right to own a gun.
The Benefits of a Set Aside
A set aside also helps people to put their mistakes in the past and focus on their futures.
Despite the limitations of a set aside, there are still benefits. By obtaining a set aside, it shows people or entities searching an individual's criminal record that the charges have been dismissed.
The Importance of an Attorney
Obtaining a set aside can be a complicated process. A person petitioning for a set aside needs to convince the judge that he or she has changed and deserves to have the conviction set aside. It is beneficial to hire an experienced Arizona attorney knowledgeable in handling set-asides to help present the petitioner's case in the most persuasive way possible.