Sealing of juvenile records means expunging a minor’s criminal record or making it nonexistent. When your juvenile record is sealed, it means it cannot be accessed by the public, state agencies, juvenile court, law enforcement agencies, department of justice, or probation department. After the court dismissed the case against you, all the arrest and court proceedings are deemed not to have happened, and you can state you have no record if asked by potential employers or other institutions.
Previously, you had to petition for the sealing of your juvenile records in Los Angeles and the larger California. However, since 2015, the dismissal of a juvenile case means an automatic dismissal of the record. This is good news, but some offenses are not eligible for automatic sealing, as discussed later. But, with an experienced lawyer from The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, you can petition to have your juvenile records sealed.
Understanding the Sealing of Your Juvenile Records
The juvenile delinquency court's role is to rehabilitate minors that violate the law and steer them from trouble. Before 2015, if you committed an offense as a minor, your record would remain in the public domain even after being reformed and served your punishment. Fortunately, since then, your record will be automatically sealed unless the crime you committed was listed under WIC section 707.
When your records are sealed, it means the file is closed, and it ceases from existence. With the help of your attorney, you can petition the court to seal your juvenile records under WIC 781. A criminal record as a juvenile attracts the same stigma as an adult criminal record. This means you can miss job opportunities or entry to your preferred college, among other things, because of your record. If you successfully have your juvenile records sealed, it means when asked some questions, you can answer in the negative. Some of these questions are:
- Have you ever been arrested?
- Do you have any criminal record?
- Have you sealed your record?
If you are faced with any of the above questions, among others, you can answer no to any of them.
When you seek for your juvenile records to be sealed, it constitutes all the reports and court recordings that have anything to do with your criminal activities as a minor. These records include:
- Your arrest records
- The findings by the judge and their rulings
- Evidence and exhibits produced in court
- Reports from the probation department
Technically, court proceedings in a juvenile court are not considered criminal. This means, even when you were guilty of the offense and said to be a ward of the court, you have no criminal record because there was no conviction. This means, even when your records are not sealed, legally, you can still claim to have no criminal record. But, even though the law does not require you to report your juvenile conviction when asked, it can land you in trouble.
For instance, a potential employer, a state licensing body, a school, or a lending agency can find out about your record and believe you were deceitful when you answered no to the question. Although no criminal proceedings will be initiated, you will likely miss opportunities when this is discovered despite your qualifications. This makes it critical for you to have your juvenile record sealed according to WIC 781.
When the Court Automatically seals your Record
Earlier, we stated that the sealing of juvenile criminal records was not automatic. But from 2015, if your offense were not one listed under WIC 707(b), your record would be automatically sealed. This means, after satisfactorily completing your probation, the court automatically seals your records without your asking them to and dismisses your case.
However, if you failed to complete your probation as ordered by the court, your record will not be sealed automatically. In this case, you will have to petition to have your records sealed with your lawyer's help. This means, if your child has been ordered to probation, you must encourage them to fulfill the terms therein to have their records sealed by the court automatically and have their case dismissed.
But, despite the sealing of your record, some agencies can still access them for particular reasons. Some of these situations are:
- When the prosecutor wants to see if you qualify for deferred entry of judgment or probation program with informal supervision
- When you seek to receive benefits when under extended foster probation, in this case, your records may be considered for eligibility.
- If you are charged with another offense, that is a felony. However, your record cannot be used to enhance your punishment, but it is necessary to know the programs you were placed under before and decide on the best ones for you.
- If it is determined you are guilty of a felony, the judge can look into your sealed record to determine the sentence to pass to you for the current offense.
- If your record was sealed but accused of a new crime, the prosecutor requests to transfer it to adult court. This is necessary to establish if it is suitable for your case to be transferred to the adult court.
- If you are already in a foster home, the department of child welfare will look into your record to establish the best place for you to live and services needed in your case.
- If the offense you committed prohibited you from owning a gun, the department of justice looks at your record to ensure you don't own or buy a gun.
- When a prosecutor believes your sealed records would help another defendant face criminal charges, they can request to be furnished with the information. In this case, the court must let you and your lawyer know, and if you object to it, the court will not give the information.
Although the above situations can allow for your sealed records to be viewed or used, it does not in any way mean your records are open to the public. The records remain sealed and only visible under these special circumstances.
Deferred Entry of Judgment
Besides the above situations, when the court can automatically seal your record if you were put under this program, your records would automatically be sealed after completing the program. According to WIC 790 to 795, you must complete all your probation program requirements to qualify for your record’s sealing. After completing your probation, the court will order to automatically seal your criminal record and dismiss the charges against you.
Your records will not be sealed automatically in cases where you failed to complete the probation terms as ordered. However, through your lawyer, you can petition your record's sealing and convince the court why you deserve your records to be sealed. If the judge is persuaded, the petition is granted. However, if the prosecution opposes the petition and convinces the judgment against it, your record will not be sealed, but you can petition for the sealing at a later date.
Pre-Petition Diversion Plans or Programs
From January 2018, it became possible to have your records automatically sealed if you were placed under a diversion plan or program, according to WIC 654. The juvenile system can order a minor to a diversion plan instead of trying them in court. However, even when you participated in this program, you must complete the plan or program to seal your records.
When your record is sealed automatically, the agency supervising your diversion plan will be informed and ordered to seal your record. Equally, the probation department must also seal your criminal records, but they must inform you of their reason in writing if they don't. When the probation department denies your petition to seal the records on the grounds of you not satisfactorily completing the diversion program, you can petition to review the decision. If the judge is satisfied that you completed the program as ordered, the probation department will be ordered to delete your record.
Reopening of your Sealed Juvenile Records
Although your juvenile records remain sealed as earlier discussed, they can be reopened under special situations only. These are:
- In case you are part of a defamation lawsuit, your records can be reopened and used as evidence in the court proceedings. But, after the conclusion of the defamation case, your records will be sealed automatically once again.
- The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can permit your insurance provider to investigate your driving background when they require determining your qualifying and risk in obtaining an auto cover. The DMV cannot release your sealed record under any other circumstances other than these.
- As earlier explained, a prosecutor can go to your sealed record if they need to locate and disclose exculpatory evidence or information in a case.
Destroying your Sealed Juvenile Record
Having your juvenile records sealed and destroying them are two different things. Sometimes, your sealed records may not be destroyed, although it is almost automatic to destroy the records once they are sealed. This means the court can still have your juvenile record sealed and order for it to be retained and not destroyed.
Destroying your juvenile record does not happen immediately after your records are sealed. The court orders the destruction of your juvenile criminal past at two different times. These are:
- Five years from when your records were sealed if you had been declared a court's ward due to repeated or habitual disobedience or truancy
- When you become 38 after you had been declared a court's ward for participating in criminal activities
Advantages of Sealing your Juvenile Records according to WIC 781
Just like an adult criminal record, a juvenile criminal record can be detrimental to your life and deny you opportunities. Having your juvenile criminal records sealed is critical and beneficial, with some of the advantages being:
- You will truthfully answer to having no criminal record when asked. This is critical when you need a job, apply to have a professional license, a loan, or join a school, among other opportunities.
- You will not be discriminated against by prospective employers or landlords because of your juvenile criminal past. Additionally, they will not be able to access it, and you literally have a clean new start.
- If the offense you committed as a minor required you to register as a sex offender according to PEN 290, you will no longer be required to if the offense was as a juvenile and you were convicted as such.
- Your juvenile criminal past will no longer define you, and you can enjoy the satisfaction of starting afresh where nothing in your criminal past is held against you.
Who Qualifies to have their Juvenile Record Sealed?
As earlier stated, not all juvenile criminal offenses qualify to be sealed. Additionally, some circumstances qualify you to seal your records, and others don't. In California, you qualify to seal your juvenile criminal records if the below aspects are all true:
- Your current age is 18 or over, and the juvenile court's jurisdiction over you ended five years ago in the least.
- As a grown-up, you have not earned a conviction for a moral turpitude felony or misdemeanor offense. Some of the crimes described as moral turpitude are theft offenses, fraud violations, drug crimes, and sex crimes.
- When the judge believes you are reformed or rehabilitated from your unacceptable ways.
- You have no existing civil lawsuit arising from your past juvenile cases.
Additionally, not all crimes are eligible for sealing, as earlier discussed. If the offense you committed as a minor was a serious felony described under WIC 707(b), you do not qualify to have your records sealed. These types of offenses are considered serious felonies in California, and they include:
- Attempted murder or murder
- Robbery as found under PEN 211
- Arson, according to PEN 451, where you cause a fire in an inhabited dwelling, or you cause significant injuries to others due to the fire.
- Forceful rape using violence or threats to cause substantial bodily harm
- Forceful sodomy by use of violence and threats of causing harm
- Performing or engaging in lascivious or lewd acts with a minor below 14 by use of threats or violence
- Forcing another person to oral copulation by inflicting bodily harm or threatening to
- Forcing sexual penetration
- Kidnapping another to ask for ransom, to harm their bodies, or rob the victim.
- Assaulting your victim causing them significant bodily harm or using a firearm to injure them or a destructive device
- Firing a gun at an occupied structure or building
- Committing a violent offense against an elderly or disabled person
- Using a firearm for your gain
- An offense felonious in nature, whereas a minor you used a dangerous weapon.
- Dissuading or bribing a witness not to testify
- Producing, assembling, or selling controlled substances that are 8 ounces or over
- Committing a felony violent in nature that is deemed to be gang-related and attracts a gang enhancement sentence
- Escaping from a juvenile or county facility and causing significant injuries to an employee during your escape
- Torturing your victim
- Causing aggravated mayhem
- Kidnapping to sexually assault the victim or carjacking them for sex
- Detonating a dangerous device to kill a person or people
- Committing voluntary manslaughter
Sealing your Juvenile Records where there was no Conviction
Besides eligibility as described earlier, according to WIC 781, other people can qualify for their juvenile records to be sealed. According to PEN 851.7, you are eligible to have your juvenile past sealed if, as a child, you were apprehended for a misdemeanor violation and:
- Were released for lack of sufficient evidence to convict you of the charges
- The charges were dismissed, and you were not convicted.
- You received an acquittal for the charges brought against you.
Under the above circumstances, you can request the sealing of your juvenile past. In this case, the conditions or two instances where the court allows for your record's sealing do not apply. This means, anytime you can have the court seal your past and not only when you turn 18 and 5 years have gone by since the court had jurisdiction over you. Sealing your records under these circumstances is similar to the expunging of criminal records in adults.
The Process of Sealing your Juvenile Criminal Record
Sealing of your juvenile criminal records is a process that takes approximately 8 to 10 months. Your lawyer files the petition to seal your records from the juvenile court where you were sentenced most recently. In most cases, you will not require presenting yourself in court, but your attorney will represent you unless the judge requires interviewing you.
After the filing of the petition by your attorney, a court date for the hearing is set. The judge reviews your petition during the hearing and any supporting evidence your attorney might present. The petition for the sealing of records is also shared with the district attorney's office and the probation department. If any objections to your petition are available, the party objecting presents their argument during the hearing with your lawyer challenging their argument.
After reviewing your petition and all the information presented, the judge can decide to:
- Grant your petition of sealing your juvenile criminal records. When this is done, a copy is sent to all relevant agencies that have or can access your juvenile records ordering them to seal them and eventually destroy them.
- The judge can also decide not to grant your petition and keep your record open.
Denying your petition to seal your criminal past is not permanent. The law allows you to petition for the sealing after some time. However, to avoid the possible denial of your petition, it is critical to have a criminal attorney represent you during the process and argue your case.
Sealing your Juvenile Criminal Record for WIC 707(b) Offenses
As earlier stated, most misdemeanor offenses as a juvenile are sealed automatically, but only if you completed your sentence as ordered by the court. If your probation sentence was revoked, you could still have your lawyer petition the court for the sealing of your juvenile records. You can also petition the court to seal your juvenile record for committing crimes listed under WIC 707(b).
If the offenses were prosecuted and sentenced in the juvenile court, you could petition the juvenile judge to seal them. Similarly, if the cases were transferred to adult court and punished according to the law, you can also petition for their sealing but from the adult court where they were tried.
However, if you committed a serious felony that resulted in you being sent to a state prison or required you to register as a sex offender according to PEN 290.008, qualifying for sealing of your record is not straight forward. For you to qualify for sealing of your juvenile criminal record following a sex offense, you must either be:
- Twenty-one years and have completed your sentence under the division of juvenile justice.
- Eighteen years and have completed your probation sentence as ordered.
Who is Unable to have their Juvenile Records Sealed
Despite the possibility of sealing your juvenile criminal records, not everyone can seal their records. The juvenile court will not permit you to seal your criminal past if:
- You were found to have committed a serious felony as listed under WIC 707(b) at 14 years or over, where you were required to register as a sex offender.
- Your case was transferred to the adult court and where you were convicted in the court as an adult and not a juvenile. In this case, you can seek expungement of your record at the adult court.
- The offense you were convicted for committing was of moral turpitude as an adult. Such offenses include some drug violations, murder, forgery, violent crimes, and other dishonest offenses.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Near Me
A criminal record is harmful to your life and denies you many opportunities. Unfortunately, a mistake in your youth can adversely affect your future despite your transformation. Fortunately, you do not have to be disadvantaged because of your past mistakes. With our help at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we can petition for the sealing of your juvenile criminal records and accord you equal opportunities as those without a criminal record. If you want to seal your juvenile criminal history, call us at 310-935-1675, and we will handle your case.