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Utah Expungement Attorney Salt Lake

Is a Utah expungement order considered a "complete" expungement?

The Utah Expungement Act as it exists as of 2015 should be viewed as providing for a complete expungement. The Utah Expungement Act has been amended and modified by the state legislature in various ways over the years. Some of these changes have been merely technical or procedural. Other changes have expanded or contracted the number or classes of convictions that may be expunged. But the legislature has also made substantive changes that have significantly altered the effect of a Utah expungement order.

As a result of these changes, there is not a large body of appellate case law interpreting the most current incarnation of the expungement act. However, a review of earlier cases does provide important insight into the purpose of the Utah Expungement Act and the effect of an expungement order. The cases of Thompson v. Department of Treasury, 557 F. Supp. 158 (Utah D. 1982) and State v. Jones, 581 P.2d 1414 (Utah 1978) both support the position that Utah’s expungement statute should be viewed as providing a complete expungement which erases a prior conviction.

If you have questions regarding expungements in Utah or are considering a petition for expungement, you should consult with an experienced criminal attorney. Contact us today to arrange for an initial consultation.

Thompson v. Department of Treasury

The case of Thompson v. Department of Treasury addressed the appellant’s assertion that an expungement order under Utah law at the time “completely erased” the petitioner’s prior conviction. Id. 557 F. Supp. at 165. The federal court opined that Utah’s expungement statute (as it existed at the time) was “not a complete and unqualified expungement that erases the prior conviction. . . .”  Id. at 167. The federal court based its opinion in large part on a prior Utah Supreme Court case opinion that had analyzed a previous version of the state expungement statute. See, Id. at 167 (citing State v. Jones).

The federal court noted several changes in the Utah expungement statute between the time of the 1978 Jones opinion and its own opinion in 1982. Among these changes were the deletion in 1980 of statutory language previously providing that upon entry of an expungement order, “the petitioner may thereafter respond to any inquiries relating to convictions of crimes as though the conviction never occurred” and also the deletion of other statutory language previously providing that “the case shall be deemed not to have occurred.” Thompson, 557 F.Supp. at 166-67 (quoting Utah Code 77-35-16.5 (1978) (emphasis added)).

The federal court observed that the 1978 Utah expungement statute had been replaced in 1980 with a statute that instead provided only that following an expungement, “[i]n the event an employer asks concerning arrests which have been expunged or convictions the records of which have been sealed, the person who received expungement of arrest or judicial pardon may answer as though the arrest or conviction had not occurred.” Id. at 167 (quoting Utah Code 77-18-2(3) (1981) (emphasis added). Noting the much more limited scope of the changed expungement statute (the former applying to “any inquiries” as compared with the 1980 statute which applied only inquiries made by an employer), the federal court concluded that the 1980 Utah expungement statute was “not a complete and unqualified expungement that erases the prior conviction. . . .” Id. at 167.

While the federal court held that the 1980 expungement was not a complete expungement, it did opine that Utah Supreme Court decision in Jones did “support[] the conclusion that the [prior 1978] statute provided a full and complete expungement, legally erasing the prior conviction.” Thompson, 581 P.2d 141 at 167. The federal court noted that Jones appears to have relied on the language from Utah Code 77-18-2(1)(c) (1978) which states, in relevant part, that upon entry of an expungement order, the person “may thereafter respond to any inquiries relating to convictions of crimes as though that conviction never occurred.” Thompson, 581 P.2d 141 at 166-67.

The reliance by the federal court on the Jones opinion is particularly relevant to the analysis of the current Utah Expungement Act. While the current Utah Expungement Act is not identical to the statutes in effect in 1978, the current statute again includes language stating that a person whose criminal records have been expunged may respond “to any inquiry as though the arrest or conviction did not occur.” Utah Code 77-40-108(2) (emphasis added). Therefore, both Thompson and Jones appear to support the position that the “any inquiry” language indicates a legislative intent to create a full and complete expungement which legally erases the prior arrest and conviction.

State v. Jones

The Utah Supreme Court in State v. Jones, 581 P.2d 1414 (Utah 1978) analyzed the “any inquiries” language in Utah’s expungement statutes as they then existed. As noted above in the analysis of the Thompson opinion, the specific language in effect at the time provided that upon entry of an expungement order, the individual “may thereafter respond to any inquiries relating to convictions of crimes as though that conviction never occurred.”  Jones, 581 P.2d at 142 (citing Utah Code 77-35-17.5(1)(c) (1978)).

The Jones opinion is short, and specifically addresses the question of whether a witness could be cross-examined regarding his prior conviction of a crime, which conviction had been expunged. Id. at 141. The court held that because the expungement statute in effect at the time applied to “any inquiries” relating to an expunged conviction, the trial court was therefore correct in refusing to allow the defendant to impeach the witness in regard to his expunged conviction. Id. at 142.

After reaching its conclusion, the Jones court proceeded to make certain statements in dicta regarding the purpose of Utah’s expungement statute. Noting that the statute allowed a person to respond to “any inquiries” as though the conviction had never occurred, the court stated that “[t]he purpose of that statute is obvious. . . .” Id. Apparently relying on the plain language of the statute to demonstrate the legislature’s intent, the court stated that “even after a person has been convicted of a crime, in appropriate circumstances he may comply with prescribed procedures . . . and . . . thereafter he may respond to any inquiry concerning his record as though that conviction had never occurred.” Id.

Finding an Attorney for Expungements in Utah

Utah Criminal Defense LawyerThe expungement process can be complex. But obtaining a complete expungement of your criminal records can provide significant benefits. Having the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney can help give you the best chance of obtaining an expungement order.

Contact us today to arrange for an initial confidential consultation. We can often tell you right over the phone whether you are eligibile for an expungement. And if you are not immediately eligible for an expungement, we can explain possible ways to restore expungement eligibility or alternative methods for clearing your record.

Who has the burden of proof on a Utah expungement petition?
Are there exceptions that allow release of expunged criminal records in Utah?
Is there a separate process for obtaining expungement of juvenile records?

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Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

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340 East 400 South, Suite 25, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
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In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
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