What to Know About the Difference between a Set Aside and an Expungement in Arizona
This the next post in my series discussing why it is important to hire a criminal defense attorney when one is looking to have their conviction set aside (or expunged) in Arizona. My last post provided an overview of topics that I will be discussing throughout my series. This article will discuss one of the most common questions I receive during consultations: what is the difference between an expungement and a set aside? After reading this you should understand what a set aside is and why it is well worth it to have your Arizona conviction set aside by a qualified expungement lawyer.
Expungement is Not Available in Arizona and most States
Fifty years ago almost every state had expungement. The legal dictionary used by lawyers (Black’s Law Dictionary) created a definition in 1966: “The removal of a conviction from a person’s criminal record.” In 1966 it was easy to remove the conviction from a person’s record; this was before computers, before background check companies, and even before the FBI had background checks. Much has changed since 1966, and that includes the availability of expungement.
Now the FBI has a large database for criminal records, as does each state. Furthermore you can now easily go online and get information that is available to the public through the Courts, the police, and of course companies that will charge you a fee. Unfortunately, once that information is available, it is not possible to have it removed, even with an expungement. For example, if you live in one of the very few states that has expungement, although your record could be removed from the FBI database, there is no law that says private companies have to remove the conviction. And even in those few states, some, like Indiana, specifically state that while you can have your record expunged, your record must show that the conviction was expunged (instead of erasing it completely).
In Phoenix and throughout Arizona you can have your Conviction Set Aside
It is wrong to think that once you have a criminal record your life is over because it will always be there. Although you cannot have your conviction erased completely, in Arizona you can have it set aside. And this is really good news.
Those who are looking to clear up their criminal record are almost always trying to get a better job, a certain professional license, go back to school, lease an apartment, or accomplish something else that will require a background check. People who read background checks for (landlords, employers, etc.) know that expungement is not possible, and they also know what a conviction set aside means: that you went to the Court where you were convicted, filed a motion asking the Court to look at your life since your case ended, appeared at a hearing (or had an attorney appear at a hearing) to argue your case, and were granted relief by the judge who sentenced you. In other words, it shows them that you put in some hard work to do everything you could to put the past in the past. It also changes the way that your record reads. Without a set aside your background check will simply say “guilty.” With a set aside, it will say “conviction vacated/set aside.”
Hiring an Arizona Expungement Attorney can often lead to better results than you would obtain on your own
Don’t be fooled into thinking that a set aside is worthless. If it were, people would not spend the time and the money that it takes to successfully have their convictions set aside. I cannot tell you the number of clients I have had who have come to me because they were offered a job, but were told that they could not start until their conviction was set aside. This alone makes the stakes high enough to justify hiring a lawyer. An additional reason to seek counsel is that an expungement lawyer can often obtain the result you want the first time. Having filed hundreds of these motions throughout the state, from Nogales to Lake Havasu City, I have come to learn that each Court handles these a little bit differently. Those differences often mean the difference between having your motion granted or denied. It is common for my clients to have already tried to do it on their own, sometimes multiple times, only to be denied again and again. The important thing in hiring an attorney is to make sure that you find one that has plenty of experience in this specific area of law.
Consulting with an Arizona expungement attorney, in my opinion, is a must for anyone thinking about getting their conviction set aside in Phoenix or Maricopa County Courts. Most lawyers offer free consultations, so there is no reason to not contact one today.