Can a Juvenile Record Be Used Against You?

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If you have a juvenile record, we understand that you might be concerned about how it can affect your present and future. So, can juvenile records be used against you in trials? If so, is there a way to clear them? We explore all that and more in today’s article, so keep reading to find out.

Can a Juvenile Record Be Used Against You?

No, Juvenile records are generally sealed in the US once you become an adult. Accordingly, they aren’t easily accessible and require a court order. Not to mention, they’re mostly irrelevant and can’t be used as evidence against you.

However, if the defense brings up a point, the Juvenile record can be used to counter it. For example, it can highlight a pattern of crimes. So, while Juvenile records aren’t enough to charge an adult, they may be able to elongate their sentences (depending on the nature of the offense, Federal and State law, and more).

What Is a Criminal Juvenile Record?

These criminal records involve an individual under 18 committing an offense. They’re highly confidential documents, which are sealed and unavailable to the public.

Juvenile records can be created due to misdemeanors, felonies, arrests without conviction, and sex crime convictions. And their records include Juvenile court proceedings, case dispositions, arrest records, and detention facility information.

Most states seal juvenile records after several years. Also, it’s worth noting that not all juvenile offenses are sealed. First-time offenders get their records sealed so that they can start over.

However, juveniles might commit serious crimes (such as extremely violent acts and sex offenses). In those cases, the severity of these crimes might disqualify them for sealing, which makes them open to the public.

Why Are Criminal Records Sealed?

To facilitate adult life for juvenile offenders, many states have authorized automatic sealing, so they don’t have to undergo any legal proceedings. To illustrate, a juvenile record is automatically sealed when the offender turns 18, 30 days after, when the case is closed, or else depending on the state. These states include:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Montana
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Virginia

When juvenile records are hidden from the public, it becomes illegal for individuals to access juvenile record information, and they can be penalized for it. That’s due to Chapter 9 of the US Department of Justice’s Justice Manual and US law 18 USC § 5038, which protect individuals against the disclosure of their juvenile offenses.

In other words, these laws make it so that they aren’t continuously punished by society for their mistakes as minors. Instead, they can live a peaceful life, getting jobs and apartments.

To emphasize the necessity of juvenile record confidentiality, a 2014 report says: “The first juvenile court was established in Cook County, Illinois in 1899. Grounded in the belief that juvenile misconduct differed from adult criminal conduct, the court sought to “spare juveniles from the harsh proceedings in adult court” and “the stigma of being branded criminal.”

It adds that “the court adopted a less punitive and more therapeutic approach: keeping children’s records confidential was essential to the goal of rehabilitation.”

Who Has Access to Juvenile Records?

Now that you know who doesn’t have access to juvenile records, the general public, let’s see who does.

For one, State and Federal agencies, law enforcement personnel, criminal defense lawyers, defense teams, child protection services, and the involved individuals can view them if needed via a direct request. Also, private companies can get specific consent to access publicly available records.

How Can Juvenile Records Be Used Against You?

Let’s go over different fields and see if and how juvenile records can reappear there.

In the Legal Field

These entities we’ve just mentioned need access to juvenile records because their work directly involves them. To illustrate, law enforcement agencies might check these records if a minor is involved in any risky behavior. Also, child protection services require this information as they attempt to find adoptive or foster parents for kids.

Let’s say you make a point in a case; a court can allow your juvenile records to be accessed and used to invalidate that point. For example, you might step in as a witness in a court case. But if you have a crime of dishonesty on your juvenile record, it might be brought up to undermine your credibility (as if it were on your adult criminal record).

Another example is using juvenile offenses to showcase a pattern of crimes. In other words, these juvenile crimes aren’t enough evidence, but they can be used to give defendants longer sentences.

In the Workplace

As we’ve mentioned, the law prohibits the disclosure of sealed juvenile records, which should stop employers from discriminating against applicants because of their juvenile offenses.

When you apply for a job, your employer might request your consent to run a background check on you (like a criminal background check). Then, they’ll hire a screening agency to extract the information available in public records and online.

Since juvenile records are expunged or sealed, they shouldn’t appear in a regular check. But there are exceptions, and it isn’t entirely impossible to view sealed records if the third party gets access to particular court documents. That’s usually the case for positions dealing with National Security.

Other than that, if you don’t provide law enforcement agencies with copies of an expunged order, checking agencies might find the supposedly removed criminal record. However, employers generally stick to your adult criminal records. They also have to abide by FCRA and State regulations if they don’t want costly fines and penalties.

In Housing

The chances of a juvenile record affecting your housing opportunities are similar to employment opportunities, slim to none. As you know, states seal juvenile records, making this information confidential.

This way, you can have a normal life without the offense hindering your ability to rent an apartment or buy a property. But, of course, adult criminal records are a different story.

What Can You Do?

You can now see how there are cases where juvenile records may be used against you, but is there a way around that? Expunging your juvenile record may be an option for public records.

Although expunging and sealing are used interchangeably, they aren’t the same. Sealed records become unavailable to the general public, whereas expunged ones are destroyed along with any associated biometric data and fingerprints.

In other words, by expunging a juvenile record, you make it as if it never existed. That sounds great, but it isn’t always easy or even possible. After all, its possibility depends on the offense’s type and severity, the charge, and the presence of other crimes.

How Can You Get a Record Expunged?

Without further ado, here’s how to get your criminal record expunged.

1. Check Your Record’s Eligibility

Expungement involves a legal process, which begins with you checking that you’re eligible for it.

So, you should hire a professional screening agency to run a background check on you. This way, you’ll learn what information is available to the public. Remember that serious crimes may not be considered juvenile, making them public.

Generally, expungement is possible for dismissed criminal cases and deferred dispositions rather than ones resulting in convictions. So, if it’d be considered a felony for adults, it may not qualify for expungement. However, minor offenses, such as misdemeanors and infractions, might be eligible for expungement, even if they’ve resulted in convictions.

Additionally, enough time needs to have passed since the offense (with no additional criminal history). Last but not least, you need to have adhered to the terms of your probation period, deferred disposition, parol, or sentence.

Still, the expungement criteria vary according to the state you’re in. For instance, Florida allows you to have your juvenile record expunged or sealed if a judge confirms that a subsequent arrest directly relates to the sealed or expunged record.

In Indiana, you can petition to expunge your juvenile record at any time, and your petition’s approval removes it from court files, law enforcement agency files, and more.

As for California, the state seals all juvenile records except ones involving serious offenses. Once sealed, they can still be accessed. Examples are if you apply for a law enforcement or health care position, commit a driving offense, or have your background checked by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

2. Get Help

After you confirm that you’re eligible for expungement, you can hire a defense attorney or lawyer. And if you can’t hire one, reach out to the court clerk’s office to learn about the process.

3. File a Petition

Now, you file a petition to have the record expunged since enough time has passed from the offense. And the petition should be filed with the court that took care of the case. You might fill in a form with instructions, and there are usually fees to pay. Other procedures include notifying particular individuals of your petition.

Note that a petition can only target one criminal case. So, if you have several criminal cases to erase, that’d require as many petitions. Unfortunately, that also undermines your chances of getting the petitions approved.

What Happens After Your Records Are Expunged?

After the court approves your petition, the main criminal file remains with the court clerk. Other entities that may have record copies include the police department, probation office, sheriff’s office, jail, and community service facilities.

Finally, you can contact all local law enforcement agencies, provide copies of the order, and ask that they remove their records.

In that sense, expungement gives you a clean slate as far as juvenile records go. With the offense removed, you don’t have to worry about it being used against you. And if you’re asked whether you have a criminal record, you’re legally allowed to deny it as long as that expunged offense is your only one.

Juvenile Record Cases

Let’s jump to a real-life example to see if juvenile records can be used in adult trials; we’ll look at the State of Ohio v. Adrian L. Hand, Jr. 2014-1814. As an adult, Adrian Hand was charged with aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, felonies assault, and a firearm specification.

The defendant pled no contest to the charges and was sentenced to a six-year mandatory sentence. He argued that his adult offenses should only sentence him to three years. However, the court insisted on six because of his juvenile adjudication.

So, this is an example of how juvenile offenses can elongate court sentences, also known as a sentencing enhancement.

Of course, there’s the question of justice; is it fair to count a juvenile offense as an adult one? The Ohio Supreme Court’s Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger argues that juvenile adjudication shouldn’t be used to elongate an adult sentence.

As for her reasoning, juvenile adjudications are civil proceedings, whereas adult court proceedings involve a jury trial. Without a jury’s inspection, she insists that a juvenile offense shouldn’t be used as evidence to increase Hand’s mandatory sentence.

Can You Get a Pardoned Charge Expunged?

Typically, you can’t do that because you can only be pardoned if your case involves a conviction. And as we’ve mentioned, getting a record expunged with a conviction is very difficult.

Final Words

Overall, juvenile records possess a high degree of confidentiality and are sealed to allow you a fair chance at life. This way, you can get jobs and housing as an adult without societal discrimination.

However, a juvenile record can be used against you in court to undermine your credibility or elongate your sentence. In short, it can be brought up if relevant to the criminal record case, so we advise you to get it expunged if possible.