The State of Arizona allows a person seeking employment, professional license, or admittance into an educational program to apply for a Fingerprint Clearance Card (hereinafter referred to as the “Card”). The Card is a small laminated card, similar to a driver’s license, which verifies that said person is capable of legal and gainful employment based on his criminal background or lack thereof.
Employers use the Card as a means of establishing a potential or current employee’s background. An employer may verify the validity of the Card by calling (602) 223-2279, and providing the card number, the potential or current employee’s name, and Social Security Number. Under no circumstances should the employee attempt to use a Xerox copy of the card, while no employer should accept a Xerox copy of the card from any employee.
Persons under eighteen or over ninety-nine years old are exempt from the fingerprinting clearance requirements, but he or she must be under the direct visual supervision of personnel who have valid fingerprint clearance cards.
The Fingerprint Division of the Department of Public Safety issues the Cards (hereinafter referred to as the “Division”). The Division conducts the fingerprint background checks for applicants who are seeking various employment opportunities. Additionally, the Division performs periodic state criminal history record checks for the purposes of updating the clearance status of current fingerprint clearance cardholders. The Board of Fingerprinting (hereinafter referred to as the “Board”) and the agency employing the person may be notified of the results of a record check.
A person seeking a Card must submit a completed application to the Division. Some employers have application packets, but applications may also be obtained by contacting the Arizona Department of Public Safety by:
1) Phone: (602) 223-2279
2) Fax: (602) 223-2947
3) Mail: Applicant Clearance Card Team
Arizona Department Public Safety
P.O. Box 18390
Phoenix, AZ 85005-8390
4) Visiting the office at its physical address:
Arizona Department of Public Safety
2320 North 20th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85005
The fee to obtain a Card is $69 for a paid employees and teacher certification and $65 for volunteers.
For an applicant with no state or federal criminal record, the processing time is approximately three to five weeks from the date the Division receives the application packet. For those persons who have a criminal record, the process may take four to eight weeks. Cards issued prior to October 1, 2003, are valid for three years. Cards issued on or after October 1, 2003, are valid for six years.
The applicant must submit a full set of fingerprints to the Division, though the Division does not itself take applicant fingerprints. The applicant can obtain a set of fingerprints from his local law enforcement agency or the applicant may use a private fingerprinting service. The applicant must submit a new set of fingerprints to the division for a fingerprint background check every six years.
After the Division receives the applicant’s state and federal criminal history, it compares it to the record with the list of criminal offenses (contained in A.R.S. § 41-1758.03(B) and (C)) that preclude an applicant from receiving the Card. The Division issues a Card, subject to the results
A complete list of offenses that would prevent an applicant from receiving a Card is contained in A.R.S. § 41-1758.03(B) and (C). By way of example, applicants precluded from receiving the Card are those applicants required to register as a sex offender, or who have been convicted of or are awaiting trial for first or second degree murder, sexual assault, child abuse, molestation of a child, sexual abuse, assault, theft, robbery, cruelty to animals, kidnapping, arson, welfare fraud, possession or use of any controlled substances, etc. However, even if a person has been convicted of or is on trial for any of the listed offenses, he or she may petition the Board for a good cause exception.
A person will be given a Card under the good cause exception if:
1) an agency (meaning the supreme court, the department of economic security, the department of education, the department of health services, the department of juvenile corrections, the department of emergency and military affairs, or the board of examiners of a nursing care institution administrators and assisted living facility managers) granted a good cause exception before August 16, 1999, and no new precluding offense is identified; or
2) the Board granted a good cause exception and no new precluding offense is identified.
According to agents at the Fingerprint Division of the Arizona Department of Safety, having a conviction set aside can increase the chances of having the application for a card being approved. Because having the conviction set aside demonstrates rehabilitation, having a conviction set aside is especially helpful when using the good cause exception, which specifically looks for rehabilitation. An Arizona attorney can aid applicants with criminal histories to obtain the Card and restore not only their rights, but also their confidence. It is highly recommended that record clearing be done at least one month before applying for a card.
The Division will send a letter of denial if, after conducting a state and federal criminal history record check, the Division determines that the applicant is ineligible for a Card.
After the applicant receives the letter of denial, he or she has 30 days to appeal. The applicant must request, complete, sign, and mail an appeal packet to the Department of Public Safety. The appeal packet can be obtained by calling the Board at (602) 223-2279 or by fax at (602) 223-2947.
Upon receipt of the applicant’s appeal packet, the Department of Public Safety conducts an extensive background check on the individual. Thereafter, the agency turns the applicant’s information over to the Board. The Board is comprised of 5 individuals who meet once every two weeks.
After deliberation, the Board decides whether to 1) grant the applicant an automatic clearance based on the information provided in the appeal documents and the background check, or 2) grant the applicant a hearing. If the applicant is granted a hearing, he or she will be notified of the time and place of the hearing. At the hearing, the burden of proof falls on the applicant to present evidence that he or she has made positive changes since the time of the conviction. The applicant may have an attorney present with him. Judgments that have been set aside or dismissed are looked upon favorably, as they demonstrate the applicant’s rehabilitation and ability to be a law-abiding citizen. Applicants are therefore well advised to consult an attorney prior to initially applying to obtain the Card.
Olga Sattarova holds a juris doctor from the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law. Mathew Higbee Esq. contributed to this article.