Although juvenile records are not available to everyone, they can be read by police and other law enforcement agencies, probation departments, and courts. In fact, a person’s juvenile record can be considered by a judge in a later adult court case in issues such as setting bail or deciding the terms of probations such as length of incarceration.
Although many people think that juvenile records are destroyed after a person becomes an adult, juvenile records are not automatically “sealed” or “expunged” when they become age of majority. A juvenile record may only be “sealed” in some states after a certain number of years after a person has finished serving his/her sentence. Sealing the record removes the record from the main record file and secures it in a separate file available only to a restricted group, primarily the court and prosecuting agencies. Expunging a record destroys the record entirely. However, most states do not allow juvenile records to be expunged. In fact, a few states do not allow courts to seal or expunge records at all.
In California, juvenile records can only be sealed. Why should you seal a criminal record? A criminal record can critically and negatively impact your ability to get a job, to attend the college of your choice, or even apply for graduate, medical, or law school. In California, if you seal your records, any documents held by the police department, the juvenile court, the district attorney, and the probation department will be closed and destroyed. In effect, the juvenile proceedings will be treated as if they never occurred.
If there is an inquiry made regarding your juvenile record, the law mandates that these agencies to answer that “they have no record of this matter.” Legally, this means that you were not adjudicated and not even arrested—you are authorized by law to say “you have never been convicted.” This is because a Juvenile Delinquency Adjudication (JDA) is not the same as a criminal conviction. Anyone with a JDA has not been convicted of a crime, and if asked this question can honestly answer by saying, “NO.”
Many of my clients were not advised by their attorneys or public defenders that sealing a record is not automatic and can only take effect after a petition with the court has been filed. Moreover, if the crime is defined to be a “WIC 707 (b) offense”—crimes of serious matters such as murder, arson, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, the general rule is that the record cannot be sealed. However, I have filed a petition for a reduction of the charge to a misdemeanor, with the caveat, that the offense is a “wobbler”, meaning the prosecuting agency can either file it as a felony or a misdemeanor.
An example of a reduction of the charge would be an assault with a deadly weapon. I had a client that was a juvenile when he committed this offense. This is an offense which is a “wobbler”. He has completed college and wants to attend graduate school. He wanted to prevent having to disclose this past occurrence in his application. Another attorney assisted the family and simply filed a petition to seal the juvenile records. The attorney failed to note that the offense falls within the category of the offenses deemed not sealable.
They came to me to find a solution. I filed a motion to reduce the current felony JDA to a misdemeanor assault. I wrote an extensive motion highlighting for the judge the positive changes in my client’s life, his social and charitable contributions, his future endeavors and his absence of any involvement in criminality since his youth. The judge granted the motion to reduce and we subsequently filed a petition to seal the records which was ultimately granted.
The transgressions of a young person in their life should not be a permanent obstacle that prevents him/her from moving forward. It is not an easy process to “weave in and out” of the criminal justice system but finding an experienced defense attorney to assist you in these types of situation is critical for success.