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Arizona Court Directs Lower Court to Grant Expungement Petition, Clearing Defendant’s Record in the Process

Recently, an appeals court in Arizona was faced with the decision of whether to reverse a lower court’s decision not to expunge an individual’s record. The individual was originally found guilty of marijuana possession in 2014, but after laws in Arizona passed that allowed for this kind of offense to be stricken from a person’s record, the defendant asked the court to remove it (or to “expunge” it). When the lower court denied this request, the defendant appealed, and the higher court agreed with the defendant, ultimately directing the lower court to erase the crime from the defendant’s record.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant was arrested in 2014 for possessing 18 grams of marijuana. He pled guilty, and the superior court placed him on two years’ supervised probation. Even after he finished the probation, however, the offense remained on the defendant’s record.
In 2020, Arizona voters passed an important law that legalized adult possession of marijuana. The law also stated that agencies could file “expungement petitions,” asking courts to erase marijuana-related convictions from an individual’s record. Once this law passed, the State petitioned to expunge all records related to the defendant’s arrest and conviction. The court denied the State’s request, and the defendant appealed.

The Decision
On appeal, the defendant primarily argued that the lower court should have granted the State’s petition because the new law clearly stated that he was eligible for expungement. It was wrong, said the defendant, for the lower court to exclude him from the group of eligible individuals. The lower court had stated that the new law did not extend to those convicted of offenses relating to selling marijuana but instead only to those convicted of possessing marijuana without any element of a sale.
The higher court looked at the statute and determined that it did, in fact, extend to those who had convictions on their record for selling marijuana. Even though the lower court had decided that only if an individual “possessed” marijuana (and did not attempt to sell it), that person would be able to benefit from the new law, the higher court decided that the word “possess” was broad enough that it could include marijuana-for-sale offenses.
Therefore, the court vacated the denial order and instructed the lower court to grant the expungement petition. The defendant’s conviction would then be totally removed from his record as a result.
Have You Found Your Criminal Defense Attorney in Arizona?
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