Juvenile Records: How Confidential Are They?

UPDATED: Jul 22, 2023Fact Checked

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Jeffrey Johnson

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 22, 2023

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UPDATED: Jul 22, 2023Fact Checked

The whole point of Juvenile Courts is the assumption that young people are “salvageable” and should not be given criminal records, so they can be rehabilitated and not bear the weight of a criminal reputation throughout life. Consequently, a juvenile’s criminal offenses are considered civil matters, but unlike most civil cases, the court files are not open to public inspection. The confidentiality of those records is situational, not blanket.

Confidentiality does not mean that the police officer, who pulls a 17-year old driver over, will not have immediate computer access to his criminal history as a juvenile. It would be unreasonable to expect police to stay ignorant of a juvenile’s history of carrying a concealed pistol, for example. Court personnel, probation officers, and other government employees have access to them, but how long do they continue to exist?

The answer to that question will depend on each state’s laws, because juvenile court procedures and statutes are state controlled. It can be generally stated though, that the police records and court records will remain in existence for some period after the juvenile becomes an adult. Why? The same concern with officer safety is one reason. Differing punishments and processes on a new adult case will depend on the prior juvenile record as well. “Three Strikes” type laws are a good example.

Three Strikes laws, which have been enacted in many states, increase sentencing penalties if the accused has prior violent convictions. Obviously, this requires maintaining records of those offenses. In some jurisdictions, a juvenile conviction for robbery will count the same as an adult prior conviction.

The fact that the police and courts have this information does not make it public. There is no public index, as in adult criminal courts, but that doesn’t mean that the juvenile’s identity is never revealed. There are exceptions. If a 17-year old drives while under the influence and causes an accident, the victim’s attorney will get the information from the court for civil liability purposes, but he or she will have to petition the Juvenile Court to get it. Another exception is made for an adult criminal defendant. His right to a fair trial may require revealing a juvenile witness’s (or accused’s) identity.

Some states however, have statutes allowing the juvenile to petition the court upon his reaching the age of majority, to seal his records for a period of years. If the petitioner continues to live a law abiding life, the records may be destroyed, but only upon court order, and only for certain offenses, generally not the most serious ones. How long those records have to exist before being destroyed, if ever, will vary from state to state.

Case Studies: Confidentiality of Juvenile Records and Insurance Implications

Case Study 1: Maintaining Confidentiality for Rehabilitation

The purpose of Juvenile Courts is to rehabilitate young offenders and avoid burdening them with criminal records that could hinder their future prospects. Juvenile criminal offenses are treated as civil matters, and the court files are not open to public inspection.

However, certain individuals, such as police officers, court personnel, and probation officers, have access to these records for law enforcement and judicial purposes. The confidentiality of juvenile records is important to protect the privacy of the individuals involved and to facilitate the rehabilitation process.

Case Study 2: Balancing Confidentiality With Public Safety

While juvenile records are generally confidential, there are exceptions when public safety is at stake. For instance, if a 17-year-old driver causes an accident while driving under the influence, the victim’s attorney may petition the Juvenile Court to obtain relevant records for civil liability purposes.

Additionally, in some cases, the identity of a juvenile witness or accused may be revealed to ensure the fair trial rights of adult criminal defendants. Balancing confidentiality with public safety considerations is crucial in navigating the complexities of juvenile records.

Case Study 3: Sealing Juvenile Records for Rehabilitation

Several states have statutes allowing juveniles to petition the court to seal their records upon reaching the age of majority. If the petitioner maintains a law-abiding life and demonstrates rehabilitation, the court may order the sealing or destruction of the records. This process acknowledges that individuals can outgrow their past mistakes and should not be permanently burdened by their juvenile records. The ability to seal or destroy records after a period of time encourages rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

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Jeffrey Johnson

Insurance Lawyer

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Insurance Lawyer

Mary Martin

Published Legal Expert

Mary Martin has been a legal writer and editor for over 20 years, responsible for ensuring that content is straightforward, correct, and helpful for the consumer. In addition, she worked on writing monthly newsletter columns for media, lawyers, and consumers. Ms. Martin also has experience with internal staff and HR operations. Mary was employed for almost 30 years by the nationwide legal publi...

Published Legal Expert

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

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