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Pima County legal clinics to help seal criminal records for free

Pima County legal clinics to help seal criminal records for free

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People can get help sealing some low-level criminal records from public view as attorneys from the Pima County Public Defense Services offer free legal clinics at their offices. The first clinic will open Tuesday morning, and two more will follow in late February and March.

Anyone who was arrested, convicted or sentenced for a crime in Arizona can petition to have their criminal case record sealed. Attorneys from Pima County Public Defense Services are offering the legal clinics to navigate the state law that sets out the details for sealing records.

A person might want to seal their arrest records from public view to regain access to housing, work or loans. Petitioning the court where they were charged can allow them to fill out applications without having to detail their criminal records.

Each court is only able to seal records under its control or those held by the Department of Public Safety, the prosecutor’s offices and other law enforcement agencies. Any case record published online or anywhere else before an order to seal them is granted may still be accessible.

Sealing records is similar to expunging records, except that records that are sealed can still be viewed in certain circumstances. For example, state law requires that records of burglary or theft come up if a person is applying for a job that requires entering into homes.

Expungement helps seal criminal records, even keeping them from coming up during prosecution in the future, but is a limited process. Marijuana-related criminal records are the only ones that can be expunged per Arizona law, however, since the passage of Prop. 207.

Criminal records for DUI, burglary and identity theft can be sealed but not expunged, though exceptions do apply for each of those. Sealing those kinds of records would allow a person to apply for a job, housing or loans and say that they’ve never been arrested, convicted or charged for a crime.

Three legal clinics will be on a Tuesday and run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Public Defense Services 10th floor conference room, 33 N. Stone Ave. The first clinic will be this Tuesday while two more will follow each of the next two months. 

The second clinic is scheduled for Feb. 28 while the last clinic will be on March 28.

At the free clinics, anyone can meet with an attorney to determine if they can petition the court to seal their record. Attorneys will help petitioners fill out paperwork to seal their record and talk about how sealing their record might affect their individual situation.

These are walk-in clinics, and no appointment is necessary.

Public Defense Services offers other free legal clinics as well, and their website includes information on restoring rights, marijuana record expungements and basic rights. The office oversees the work of the Public Defender, Legal Defender, Legal Advocate, Public Fiduciary, Office of Court Appointed Counsel, Office of Children’s Counsel and the Mental Health Defender.

Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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