Former juvenile offenders may be able to get a fresh start of sorts by filing a petition in court seeking expungement (sealing) of a juvenile court conviction. Expungement typically allows offenders to tell prospective employers, landlords, licensing agencies and others that they have never been arrested or convicted. However, expungement does not eliminate all the consequences of a juvenile court conviction. For example, even an expunged conviction can serve as a strike that produces harsher punishment under a state's Three Strikes statute. (To learn more about juvenile offenses, see Nolos article Juvenile Court: An Overview. To learn more about criminal records and expungement, see Nolo's Expungement & Criminal Records area. Also see Prior Convictions and the Job-Application Process.) There are many advantages to sealing your juvenile records. Read on to learn which juvenile records may be sealed, how to have them sealed, and what it means once those records are sealed.
Eligibility for Record Sealing
The kinds of juvenile records that are eligible for sealing varies from state to state. Usually, whether a record can be sealed depends on the following.
Age. The person seeking the sealing (sometimes called "expungement") must be an adult. In most states, this means the person making the request must be at least 18 years old.
When the offense was committed. Often, a juvenile record cannot be sealed until five years have passed from the date of the offense or from the end of the juvenile court proceedings.
Type of juvenile offense. Some states limit the types of offenses that can be expunged from a juvenile record. Many states dont allow people to expunge serious juvenile offenses -- such as a violation that would be a felony in adult criminal court.
Subsequent arrests or convictions. In many states, if the person asking for expungement of a juvenile record also had later criminal arrests or convictions as an adult, the request to seal the juvenile record will be denied.
How to Get Juvenile Records Expunged
Some states automatically seal certain types of juvenile records after the offender reaches a certain age. But in most jurisdictions, the records will not be sealed unless the offender files an official request with the court. Again, the process varies by state, but heres a typical rundown of what to do:
File a petition. The former offender (sometimes called the "petitioner") files a petition -- usually with the juvenile court clerk in the county where the offense occurred -- asking the court to seal the petitioner's juvenile record. Most courts have preprinted forms, with instructions, that you can fill out.
Pay a fee. In most jurisdictions, the petitioner pays a fee when he or she files the petition asking that a juvenile record be sealed.
Impact of Sealing Juvenile Records
If the court approves the petition and seals the juvenile records, the court then treats the juvenile court proceedings as if they never occurred. In most states, this means that if you're asked whether you have a criminal or juvenile offense history, you can legally say no. Likewise, if an employer, educational institution, government agency, or other entity does a background check on you, your juvenile court history will not come up. So having your juvenile record sealed can have tremendous advantages when you're applying for a job or professional license or in any other situation that might involve inquiries about your criminal history.
The sealing is not absolute, however. In certain circumstances, the expunged juvenile record may be accessible. For example, if you apply for a job with a law enforcement agency, chances are your record will be visible to that agency when they run a background check on you. If your juvenile record contains a vehicle-related violation, an insurance company may be able to access a record of that offense when you apply for car insurance. Finally, juvenile offenses that are expunged from a record may still be used to increase the severity of a sentence that's handed down after a later juvenile offense or criminal court conviction.
To learn more about juvenile courts and how parents can help children in trouble with the law, get The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System, by Paul Bergman and Sara Berman (Nolo).