If you are a former juvenile offender, you may be able to clear your record by having your juvenile court record expunged -- that is sealed or destroyed. Expunged records are generally treated as though they never existed. That means you can tell potential landlords, employers, licensing agencies and others that you were never arrested or adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile.
However, expungement does not always eliminate the consequences of juvenile delinquency. In some states, for example, your record will be unsealed if you are found guilty of a later offense, and your juvenile record may be used against you when you are sentenced. That said, there are a number of advantages to expunging your juvenile records. Read on to learn whether your records qualify for expungement and how to have them expunged.
Does Your Juvenile Record Qualify for Expungement or Sealing?
The rules for expunging or sealing juvenile records vary from state to state. Whether or not your record can be cleared typically depends on the following.
Age. Some states provide for automatic expungement of certain juvenile records regardless of age but, usually, you must be an adult to have your record expunged. In most states, this means you must be at least 18 years old.
When you committed the offense. Often, a juvenile record can’t be sealed until a certain length of time has passed since the end of the juvenile case. For example, the waiting period may be one, two, or five years depending on the state and on the offense committed.
Seriousness of the offense. Most states place some restrictions on the types of offenses that can be expunged. Many states won’t allow you to expunge serious juvenile offenses -- for instance, those that would be considered felonies if committed by an adult.
Later arrests or convictions. In most states, you won’t be permitted to expunge your juvenile record if you had subsequent juvenile adjudications or adult criminal convictions -- or if such proceedings are pending against you.
How to Expunge Your Juvenile Records
As mentioned above, a handful of states automatically seal some types of juvenile records at the end of the court proceedings or after the juvenile reaches a certain age. In most states, however, you must file a request with the court asking that your record be expunged. The process varies from state to state, but you will usually need to file a petition with the court that handled your case. Some courts provide forms, with instructions, that you can complete. Usually, you will be required to pay a fee when you file your papers, and there are often requirements about certain people you must notify of your request to expunge. Contact the court clerk’s office for details, or consult a qualified criminal law attorney in your area.
After Your Records Are Expunged or Sealed
If the court expunges your record, that means your record will -- for most purposes -- be treated as though it never existed. One of the greatest benefits of this is that if you are asked whether you have a criminal history, you can legally say no. (Assuming, of course, that you didn’t get into trouble afterward.) And if a prospective employer, college, government agency, or other agency or individual checks your background, your juvenile court history will not usually show up. (There are limited exceptions to this rule, discussed just below.) Having your juvenile record expunged can be a great advantage when you later apply for a job, professional license, or in any other situation where having a criminal history might negatively affect you.
Keep in mind, however, that expungement or sealing is not always permanent. In many states, your record may still be accessible under some circumstances. For instance, if you apply for a job in law enforcement or another sensitive area, the agency that interviews you may have access to your record. In extreme cases, your record may even be unsealed at a later date. This is usually the case if you are later found guilty of another juvenile offense or convicted of a crime as an adult. Even if your record is not officially unsealed, courts will still have access to it, and it may increase the severity of your sentence if you are convicted of a later offense.
For More Information on Your State's Law
To learn more about expunging or sealing juvenile records, read the overview for your state below. To learn whether you can expunge an arrest or conviction record where you live, and for tips on getting started, follow the link to the state article itself.