by James Sena, Criminal Attorney
Felony criminal convictions, in addition to prison and fines, can haunt offenders for the rest of their lives. This can happen in several ways, including loss of voting rights, travel restrictions, employment restrictions, jury service restrictions, public benefit restrictions, restrictions against holding certain public offices, parental benefit restrictions, professional/social stigma and a lifetime loss of the right to possess firearms. However, there are steps that can be taken to restore certain rights.
Conviction Set-Asides and Rights Restoration
Arizona law permits different classes of offenders to petition the courts at different times for conviction set-asides and for rights restoration while barring certain offenders from ever having their rights restored.
The success of such petitions often hinges on the nature and number of the original offense(s), the length of time that has passed since the offense(s) occurred, and the personal situations of the offenders since their convictions. Offenders are not guaranteed forgiveness under the law, but because of the Arizona Legislature’s creation of clear pathways to rights restoration, many Arizona offenders who have moved beyond their past transgressions can again enjoy their full civil rights as American citizens.
In Arizona, there is no such thing as true expungement (or erasing) of a conviction. In rare cases, it is possible to expunge a police report that did not result in a conviction. But a conviction that has been set aside will always show up on a background check. However, following a set-aside, that same check may show “judgment of guilt set aside” instead of “guilty.”
That formal expression of the state’s forgiveness can sometimes convince prospective employers not to hold such incidents against job applicants and to permit people to pass a background check they would otherwise fail. It can also be helpful to have even misdemeanor crimes set aside, even where no rights are in need of restoration.
In Arizona, complete firearm restrictions are imposed against all convicted felons. Additionally, people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses are barred from possessing firearms, as are people who have received certain mental health judgments and people using marijuana — even if they have a valid state medical marijuana card or live in a state where recreational marijuana is permissible under state law.
The firearm rights restrictions come out of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and its subsequent amendments. That federal law often relies on interpretations of state law, state convictions and state determinations for enforcement, which result in its uneven and unfair application across the country. For example, if a person loses his or her right to bear arms in California, in most cases very little can be done to restore it.
In Arizona, however, it is at least possible, in most circumstances, to request that a judge set aside a state conviction and restore the offender’s right to bear arms. At the same time, offenders can often regain their right to vote and begin applying for jobs that, due to the conviction, were previously unavailable to them.
The Legal Process
If you want to go hunting or shooting with your friends and family, or you want the right to have your opinions hold weight at the ballot box, and you have managed to avoid recent legal troubles, you may be a good candidate for rights restoration.
In Arizona, restoration of your civil rights is a relatively simple petition process and court appearances are unlikely. Consequently, it is more affordable than most legal services, and the prospects of success are often greater than you may think.
James Sena is a criminal attorney at Fitzgibbons Law Offices PLC in Casa Grande 520-426-3824.