Cleaning Up the Past
Many people ask how a court judgment or even a court filing can appear on their credit report or background check. Courts are required to report convictions and judgments to some government entities such as the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Motor Vehicle Division, but that is all.
It is important to note that courts do not automatically report outcomes to companies that produce these kinds of background reports. However; these organizations do contact court systems across the country to purchase the records they use to create their databases. Courts also do not perform background checks for companies or individuals; that is what those companies do.
We know that having a court judgment in your past can impact many aspects of your future. There are several processes available that may help “clean up” your history, but there are conditions that apply and many cases will not qualify. It will be important to review the statutes listed below to see what the laws do and do not allow.
Download our simplified FAQ on sealing criminal cases here for later reference.
Sealing means the court file – whether there is a judgment or conviction or not – becomes protected and is accessible only to specific people such as the defendant and their attorney, court staff, law enforcement, and sometimes the victim of the crime in question. This is intended to prevent the case from appearing on a credit report or background check in the future. In most cases the defendant will be allowed to state that they have never been arrested or convicted of the crime in question, however; there are exceptions which are listed in the relevant statue linked below. Note that the conviction may continue to be used as a prior if you receive additional charges.
Setting Aside means that a person with a criminal judgment against them is released from all penalties. The court record will indicate that there was a judgment or conviction but it is set aside and the defendant owes no more money, jail time, or probation. Defendants may also qualify for a “Certificate of Second Chance” which restores certain protections and rights that the conviction or judgment took away. The case is neither expunged nor automatically sealed but defendants may tell anyone who asks that the conviction or judgment no longer exists.
Vacating means the court will eliminate a previous decision and replace a person to the position they were in before that decision was made.
Expunging (applies only in marijuana-related cases) means that the judgment/conviction will be vacated and both the court and law enforcement will seal the case. A defendant whose marijuana case is expunged may say that they have never been arrested, charged, etc for the crime and the case cannot be used in any subsequent court matter. Juvenile cases which are expunged may be used for some later offenses as listed in the statute below.
Beginning September 24, 2022, the court will automatically seal any eviction case when any one of the following occur:
- the court enters an order dismissing the case prior to a judgment;
- the court enters a judgment in favor of the tenant; or
- the landlord and tenant stipulate (agree in writing) to set aside, vacate, and seal the judgment and file a Motion to Set Aside and Seal.
Marijuana (including cannabis):
Proposition 207 legalized recreational use of marijuana in Arizona. As a result, defendants or prosecutors may now file a court Petition to Expunge certain marijuana arrests, charges, and/or convictions occurring prior to November 30, 2020. Qualifying offenses include:
- Possessing, consuming, or transporting two and one-half ounces or less of marijuana, of which not more than twelve and one-half grams was in the form of marijuana concentrate;
- Possessing, transporting, cultivating, or processing not more than six marijuana plants at your primary residence for personal use; or
- Possessing, using, or transporting paraphernalia related to the cultivation, manufacture, processing, or consumption of marijuana.
Anyone arrested, convicted, or sentenced for a criminal offense may now file a court Petition to Seal their criminal case record if certain conditions are met:
- The defendant was arrested but no charges were filed;
- The charges were dismissed or resulted in a not guilty verdict at a trial;
- If convicted, all the terms and conditions of the sentence are completed including payment of all fines, fees, and restitution;
- Specific time frames have passed since the terms of the sentence were satisfied:
- 10 years for a class 2 or 3 felony;
- 5 years for a class 4, 5, or 6 felony;
- 3 years for a class 1 misdemeanor;
- 2 years for a class 2 or 3 misdemeanor;
- 5 additional years to the above if the person has a prior felony.
Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) govern what offenses may be sealed, set aside, and expunged.
The Arizona Supreme Court also writes “Rules of Procedure” specific to each case type which judges and clerks must follow.
There are specific conditions for each category:
|Case/Procedure||State Law||Procedural Rule|
|Eviction Sealing||A.R.S. § 33-1379||Eviction Rule 20|
|Criminal Sealing||A.R.S. § 13-911||Criminal Rule 36.1|
|Criminal set aside||A.R.S. § 13-905||Criminal Rule 29|
|Marijuana Expungement||A.R.S. § 36-2862||Criminal Rule 36|
|Juvenile Expungement||A.R.S. § 13-921||file in Superior Court|
You may also find this downloadable chart helpful in explaining what can and cannot be done on each case type.
First, know that the judge will not automatically grant any of the above petitions. There are many reasons which may disqualify a defendant from this kind of relief. In such instances, the judge will deny the petition with an explanation of the decision.
For any of the above case types and desired outcomes, a defendant must file the petition with the specific court that adjudicated the case in question. Justice Court, Superior Court, and city courts may all have their own forms to use.
View the Maricopa County Justice Courts Forms page to download what you need for cases in our courts.
The Arizona Judicial Branch Self-Service Center has downloadable forms to use in other court systems.
The court is not required to hold a hearing on the petition unless you, the prosecutor, or the victim requests one. But you are not allowed to request a hearing after the judge rules on it; that must be done in advance.
Many cases may take 30 or more calendar days before the judge issues a ruling. This allows time for partner agencies (county attorney, DPS, etc) to research the case and provide objections or support. If all the necessary information is readily accessible it may be faster. You must notify the court if you face any new charges during this time.
On a Petition to Seal or Expunge:
Granted: Most, if not all, of your rights will be restored as if the case had never been filed. You may be able to state on applications for employment, housing, financial aid, loans that you have never been charged with or convicted for the crime that resulted in the case. This only becomes effective once the judge signs the petition. However, there are exceptions which are listed in section (I)(5) of A.R.S. § 13-911.
Dismissed: If this is because you filed in the incorrect court or failed to provide sufficient information, you may refile immediately following the proper procedures.
Denied: You must wait three years from the date of the denial to file a new petition. You may also appeal the decision if you believe you the court or law enforcement made an error and you were, in fact, eligible.
On a Motion to Vacate or Set Aside:
This is a much more complex discussion than can be covered here.