A new state law allowing people with criminal records to have them sealed them from the public went into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
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According to law 13-911, people who are allowed to seal their records do not have to disclose that they have had a criminal record, with some exceptions.
Randal McDonald, the supervising attorney in the post-conviction clinic at Arizona State University Law, said that the amount of exceptions in this law may make it too confusing.
“I understand some of these carve outs. I don’t know that I specifically object to any of them individually, but I think the effect of having so many may result in kind of a confusing amalgam. And that may put someone in a position where they may say, ‘I don’t have a felony conviction’ in a situation where they really need to disclose that under the law,” said McDonald.
According to law 13-911, if a person is applying for something that directly relates to what they have been convicted of, they may still be required to disclose their criminal record, even if it has been sealed.
Additionally, people who have been convicted of dangerous crimes, using a dangerous weapon or have repetitive convictions are not eligible to benefit from this law.
Evan Tompkins, a criminal attorney at Jackson White Law, said he has already seen this law positively impact his clients.
“We filed dozens of these petitions and we’ve had a lot of them already granted. I’ve had a lot of clients reach out to me recently saying how refreshing it is to do these background checks and these employment applications where they can deny this issue they’ve had for so long.”
Law 13-911 states that sealed criminal records will not show up on public background checks, but will still be available for law enforcement and can be used to increase sentencing of future crimes.
Bret Royle, a criminal defense attorney at Feldman Royle Law, said he thinks this law will not only give people a second chance, but it will also benefit them psychologically.
“I’m seeing it in clients’ lives that once you’re convicted of a crime, sometimes you’ve fallen into this glut of saying, ‘now that I’m convicted, I’ve kind of got the scarlet letter. What’s the point? Why seek meaningful employment? Why not continue to commit crime?’ And I think the idea is, ‘I don’t have a scarlet letter any longer. I’m not tarnished by this conviction. I can actually move past it. I can seek employment, I can potentially get better housing,’” said Royle.
Royle said that, while he believes the law will be beneficial overall, he also recognizes the potential dangers it poses to the public.
“It must be nice to be able to look up a potential partner before you go and meet them, even for a cup of coffee. And so in that respect, maybe it does open you up to some degree of safety concerns,” said Royle.
However, Royle said that he believes there will be more positive outcomes from the law than negative ones.
“I think there is some danger to the idea of sealing these sorts of things. But ultimately, the psychological benefit to those who have made mistakes and the ability to actually move beyond that mistake and better your life far outweighs any potential risk,” said Royle.