Scratched Charges

In today’s episode Chuck explains what it means to have charges scratched. He also explains how scratched charges can impact you in the future.

Scratched Charges Video Transcript

A friend of mine got arrested for a felony offense and…

Chuck: Let me stop you there, a friend of yours?

A friend.

Not you.

Correct. So he was arrested. He was hauled down to the jail. He was given a court date and was ultimately released. When they showed up for court they said his charges were “scratched”. It has been so long now, I don’t think the charges can come back but there is a worry about a background check, and what is going to show up if anything given the fact that the “scratched charges”  had not been filed.

Let me explain what the word “scratched” means. That is a slang term meaning your court appearance which would have been the preliminary hearing was vacated. At that point the state has 7 years from when they knew a crime was committed to file on you. This is for most crimes, not every one, for example with homicides or sex offense cases they have an unlimited amount of time.

Typically in other situations such as an armed robbery or burglary, the state or the police know there was a crime committed, you get arrested, and then your court date is set up. You’ve been released from jail on bond or maybe OR, and you show up for court and they say it’s been scratched. That means it has been vacated. But what it also means (and the court needs to tell people this) you can still be charged for up to 7 years, if you are not the charges go away.

Now, going into your question: Will scratched charges show on a background check? A background check can show an arrest. They don’t always show arrests, sometimes they do when one never even occurred. If it does show an arrest, it doesn’t show a disposition or a final answer to what you were arrested for. That can be a problem for a lot of people because, let’s say it is an employer and they say “well go get something to show me this was dismissed” but it is not a dismissal.

I have been telling people for 31 years the term scratched charges or vacated means that the prosecutors (the county attorney’s office typically) never got around to filing a complaint against you. One reason may be that they looked at the police report that was submitted and believed they didn’t have a good case. Or that there was not enough evidence there to prosecute the person, or the witnesses recanted their story, whatever it happens to be. But somebody actually reviewed it and said “Nah, we don’t have anything here.” So then that is it.

But that arrest record will stay there from then until eternity runs and you’ll have to explain it away. So when the employer that you’re about ready to get hired with says “Hey, get me something from the courts that says this was dismissed”, there is nothing to show that it has been dismissed officially. You could get a copy of a docket that showed nothing happened after that, well actually that wouldn’t work either because the arrest never goes to the court docket. There will potentially be a case number assigned which is a “PF” number in superior court and that means prefiling; if there is a record of that and nothing afterwards common sense would dictate that there were no charges filed against you, which means you were never adjudicated, meaning you were never found guilty of anything.

In that situation you’re having to look for something that doesn’t exist and that can be a real problem. I am not aware or anything in the State of Arizona to allow you to seal or expunge an arrest record. I’m not sure it can be done. The only way is if you’re dealing with someone who is fairly intelligent as an employer, and you can tell them “Hey, here’s my docket. It shows prefiling number and it doesn’t show anything else. It shows a court appearance date which was eventually vacated. So it is a hard thing to do. Again, we do not have an expungement statute in the state of Arizona.

If you are convicted of something, “expungement” means taking it out of the public record, so it is no longer there. We don’t have that in Arizona. You can move, or apply, to set aside the judgement and then the notation on your criminal background check says “judgement set aside”. Quite honestly, from a practical standpoint, it doesn’t mean a lot. If someone is listening to what you have to say about it and firmly believes it was set aside, and that you paid your debt to society, great!

Does it really have that affect? I don’t think so. I have done this for people before and they still have issues. So I hope that explains your question relative to the term “Scratched Charges”. If they don’t file on you within 7 years, then that’s it, too late.