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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.

Situations when the court will automatically seal your record

If a person was arrested and involved in a court case or had any kind of contact with the juvenile justice system in California when they were under 18 years of age, then you can be sure that various entities have records about what happened. This includes the courts, law enforcement agencies, schools, and various other public agencies. Getting these records sealed could help make it easier for a person to get a job, get their driver’s license, rent an apartment, go to college, get a loan, etc.

In some cases, the court will automatically see all these records. This can happen under the following circumstances:

  • If a case was dismissed by a juvenile court after January 1, 2015, and a person was found to not have committed an offense listed in Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b), when a person was 14 years of age or older, they will not need to ask permission from the court to seal their records.
  • The court will automatically seal these records upon successful completion of probation for the offense. In fact, the court must automatically dismiss the case if the person has successfully completed probation.

When you look through the Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b), you will see that the crimes that will make someone ineligible to have their records automatically sealed include those related to violent offenses such as rape, kidnapping, murder, and some offenses involving weapons and drugs.

sealing juvenile records in California

Who qualifies to seal their juvenile records for offenses not listed in Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b)?

There are various eligibility requirements in place for those looking to have their juvenile records sealed. A person will be eligible to have their juvenile record sealed if:

  • They are 18 years of age or older OR after at least five years have passed since the date of their last arrest, discharge from probation, citation to appear, or closure of their case.
  • They have not been convicted of an adult criminal court for a felony or misdemeanor involving a crime of “moral turpitude” (which can include fraud, theft, drug offenses, sex offenses, or an offense involving great bodily harm) since their last arrest or discharge from probation.
  • The court is satisfied that the person has been rehabilitated.
  • The case started and ended in juvenile court.
  • A person does not have an open civil lawsuit regarding a case on their juvenile record.

A qualified criminal defense attorney in Riverside will be able to fully review a person’s record to determine whether or not they may be eligible to have their juvenile records sealed.

Who doesn’t qualify to have their records sealed?

In general, a person will not be able to have their juvenile record sealed under the following circumstances:

  • The juvenile court found that they committed a serious and violent offense when they were 14 years of age or older.
  • They were transferred to and convicted in adult criminal court (regardless of their age).
  • They do not meet the requirements that we listed above.

In 2015, California passed a law that allows a juvenile case to be dismissed if the person committed a serious or violent offense. However, this can only occur if the judge believes it is in the offender’s best interest and they meet the dismissal criteria. If a case is categorized as dismissed, then it will become possible for the juvenile records to be sealed.

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.