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Are Juvenile Records Automatically Sealed?

Posted in Juvenile Crimes on January 10, 2019

Any type of juvenile criminal record can have dramatic effects on a person’s life. Depending on the severity of the charges involved, a juvenile record can negatively impact school admissions, eligibility for financial aid, employment opportunities, military enlistment, and may even restrict housing options. A juvenile record includes every piece of documentation held by the arresting police department, district attorney’s office, probation department, and the court involved in a juvenile’s arrest and criminal charges.

Myth Vs. Reality

Unfortunately, many Americans mistakenly assume that a juvenile record simply “disappears” from the public record and everyone starts age 18 with a clean slate. This is not the case, and while a few states have adopted juvenile record expungement laws, any young person with a juvenile record must explicitly pursue the process of sealing or expunging that record.

A sealed record remains invisible to the public but stays permanently available for reference if needed. For example, if an individual with a juvenile record secures a record sealing after reaching 18 years of age and then commits another crime several years later, the prior juvenile record may still come into play in some capacity in accordance with state laws.

Expungement is a more thorough option for clearing a juvenile record as it eliminates it from public records. Courts, law offices, police departments, and other law enforcement agencies must completely remove all trace of an expunged record as if the recorded incident never happened.

Securing a Record Sealing or Expungement

Any juvenile with a criminal record must research his or her state’s laws concerning sealing and expungement. The court systems and law enforcement agencies do not automatically notify individuals of their options for sealing or expungement as soon as they turn 18; those individuals must research the process and file the necessary paperwork with the appropriate offices. The process can be tedious, but recent legislative trends indicate that many states’ justice systems acknowledge this issue and are moving to make sealing and expungement easier in certain cases.

Only a few states have adopted automatic record sealing and expungement laws.

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Montana
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Virginia

If an individual residing in one of these states has any type of juvenile record, he or she must not assume that his or her record qualifies for automatic expungement or sealing. Some states only allow expungement for specific offenses, while others only allow partial expungement while retaining some records in the court and/or law enforcement archive. For example, New Mexico state law requires automatic sealing of all juvenile records as soon as a judge discharges a case for both the court and the relevant law enforcement agencies. In Alaska on the other hand, the court automatically seals some juvenile court proceedings but documents such as arrest records held by law enforcement agencies remain unsealed and visible to the public.

Finding Help With Record Sealing and Expungement

Some states have time limits for record sealing and expungement applications. For example, some states require waiting five or more years before petitioning for record sealing or expungement. Some states have “Strike” rules, such as California’s Three Strikes law. A felony conviction as a juvenile may still count toward the Three Strikes law in some cases, regardless of how much time has passed between offenses.

Many defense attorneys understand their states’ record sealing and expungement laws and may be able to help individuals with questions about these processes. Anyone with a juvenile record should know how to approach a record sealing or expungement petition, and a defense attorney in Riverside can be a fantastic resource.