Almost every state has a law that prohibits to some degree public access to juvenile court records. Each state has statutes establishing the right of access to records created during juvenile delinquency proceedings. Generally, each state provides that records of the proceedings are available to the parties and their representatives. In each state, the court retains the discretion to permit access to the records of juvenile delinquency proceedings by various interested parties. However, the court in its discretion may permit the inspection of any papers or records. Even those states that have some restriction on access by the general public often allow parents, attorneys, law enforcement officials, parole and probation departments, and court personnel to inspect and copy records without the juvenile's consent. Public access is broadened in the many states that provide that names of youth may be made public without their consent if they are over a certain age and have been charged with a serious offense.
Balancing Approach to Confidentiality Issues in Juvenile Cases
The United States Supreme Court has taken a balancing approach to confidentiality issues in juvenile cases. The Court held that the state's interest in protecting the anonymity of a juvenile offender in order to further rehabilitation could not justify a state statute imposing criminal sanctions on a newspaper for publishing the name of the juvenile arrested for killing another juvenile.
Destruction of Juvenile Records
In order to balance these open-ended disclosure rules, most states also provide for the eventual destruction of youth records. Juvenile records may be destroyed by either sealing or expungement. A sealed record is preserved but closed. An expunged record is physically destroyed.
Some state codes provide that once a record is sealed, the delinquency proceeding is ''deemed never to have occurred,'' thus eliminating much of the practical difference between the two methods. In other states, however, certain provisions allow for information in sealed records to be used in sentencing for a subsequent offense. Therefore, the difference between expungement and sealing can be substantial depending on the language in the statute.
If a juvenile has committed a serious felony, some states allow the record to be sealed but never expunged. Similarly, in some states a sealed record will not be expunged if the juvenile court in its discretion determines there is good cause to preserve the record.
Procedures for Sealing or Expunging Records
The procedures involved in sealing or expunging records vary greatly from state to state. Generally, the laws provide that a statutorily specified period of time must elapse, or the youth must reach a statutorily specified age, before a petition is allowed. The time requirements may vary depending upon the seriousness of the offense. Also, the child must not have any pending charges during this time period. Some states have passed statutes limiting expungement for certain offenses. A court can order the records destroyed on its own motion.
A notice of motion to seal or expunge a record should be served upon the appropriate parties. These are usually the prosecutor, arresting authorities, or agency responsible for the child's supervision. After the petition is filed, a hearing is usually scheduled. Those opposing the motion file papers and reports on the minor's progress or lack of progress since they were last before the court. The report usually contains a recommendation for or against the motion. The judge hearing the motion decides if the petition will be granted. If the motion is denied, states generally allow the child to repetition soon thereafter. If the motion is granted, a copy of the order should go to every agency that had contact with the child.
Copyright 2007 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.