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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: Confidentiality and Expungement

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  • California Passes Law Removing Fee for Sealing Juvenile Records for Those Under 26: Senate Bill 504 makes it free for youth under 26 years of age to petition the court to seal their records. Existing California law allows a person to petition the court to seal their record if they were under 18 at the time of commission of a misdemeanor and meet certain other qualifications. Prior to passage of S.B. 504, the court was allowed to order youth to reimburse court costs and other costs involved in bringing such petitions, often making it too expensive for youth to get their records sealed. Now the court is prohibited from imposing such costs unless the individual is 26 or older. S.B. 504 was authored by Senator Lara and co-sponsored by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Youth Justice Coalition, East Bay Community Law Center and the California Public Defenders Association. S.B. 504 was signed into law Sept. 30, 2015.
  • California Strengthens Confidentiality Protections for Immigrant Youth:  Assembly Bill 899 clarifies that it is unlawful for local and state entities to share confidential information from juvenile court proceedings with federal officials without a court order upon the filing of a petition. The bill also expands the definition of “juvenile information” to include not only the case file, but also information related to the youth, including name, date or place of birth, and immigration status. The stated intent of the law is to ensure that court records from the juvenile justice system remain confidential regardless of the youth’s immigration status. The legislature also reiterated its intent to protect the confidentiality of information connected to juvenile justice court proceedings that are maintained by any government agency, including law enforcement. Assembly Bill 899 was authored by Assembly Member Marc Levine and signed into law on September 4, 2015.


  • California Provides Automatic Dismissal of Juvenile Petitions and Sealing of Records
    Senate Bill 1038 requires the Juvenile Court to seal the record and dismiss the charges of youth who have successfully completed probation or diversion in all cases other than those categorized by law as “serious and violent crimes” for which minors may be “direct-filed” in adult criminal court. The legislation allows the court to dismiss charges and seal the records for individuals beyond the age of 21 “in the interests of justice.” The bill permits prosecutors and probation officers to access sealed records only for the limited purpose of determining eligibility for a “deferred entry of judgment” and allows the court to access a sealed file only in order to determine the eligibility of youth who have petitioned the court for continued foster care services. Senate Bill 1038 was authored by Senator Mark Leno and signed into law on August 22, 2014.

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  • California — Probation Must Provide Youth with Information on Process for Sealing and Destruction of Court Records: California allows youth to petition for sealing and destruction of their court records under certain circumstances and by following specific guidelines. A new law requires the probation department to provide youth with information regarding their eligibility for sealing and destruction of court records and the procedures for requesting such sealing and destruction. All informational materials and forms must be developed by January 1, 2015. A.B. 1006/Act No. 269, signed into law September 9, 2013; effective January 1, 2014. 
  • Colorado Shortens Waiting Period for Expungement of Juvenile Records: Colorado reduced the waiting period for youth to be considered eligible for expungement of their records. A court—through its own motion or the motion of the juvenile probation or parole department—may now initiate expungement proceedings 30 days after a youth’s sentence is discharged. Prior to the new law, expungement could not be initiated until one year after completion of diversion programming, or until four years after completion of probation or commitment/parole. Courts must advise youth and their parents or guardians of the right to expungement at the time of adjudication. For certain serious offenses, expungement proceedings may not commence prior to five years from the date the sentence is discharged. H.B. 1082/Act No. 238, signed into law May 17, 2013; effective August 7, 2013.
  • Colorado Protects Voting Rights of Incarcerated Youth Who Are Incarcerated: Colorado passed legislation to ensure that youth in custody of the Division of Youth Corrections who are eligible to vote will be able to register and cast a mail-in ballot. Administrators of facilities must facilitate registration, voting, and provide eligible youth with information of their voting rights. H.B. 1038/Act No. 28, signed into law and effective March 15, 2013.
  • Indiana Allows Sealing of Juvenile Arrest Records Not Leading to Conviction: Under a new Indiana law, individuals can petition to have their juvenile records sealed if the arrest did not result in an adjudication or if the adjudication was overturned on appeal. If these criteria are met and the individual has no pending charges, the court must seal the records. H.E.A 1482/P.L. 159-2013, signed into law May 6, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.
  • Minnesota Limits Public Access to Juvenile Court Records:  Minnesota passed a law to prohibit direct public access to electronic juvenile court records except in cases where the prosecutor has filed a motion to transfer the youth to adult court; the prosecutor has requested that the proceeding be designated as an extended jurisdiction juvenile prosecution (i.e., blended sentence); or the youth has been adjudicated for certain more serious drug or weapon offenses. Such records remain accessible to the public at individual county courthouses. H.F. 392/Act No. 2013-109, signed into law May 24, 2013; effective January 1, 2014. 
  • Minnesota Supreme Court Grants Limited Expungement of Executive Branch Juvenile Records:  Responding to an appeal from an individual with a juvenile record that created barriers to his educational and career pursuits, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that courts can expunge some parts of juvenile delinquency records that are held by the executive-branch agencies (e.g., the Department of Human Services and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension). However, the court limited expungement to the court order that adjudicated the youth delinquent. The youth’s arrest records, stays of adjudication, and adjudication petitions held by the executive branch are not expungeable. The court also articulated a new standard in its ruling, stating that “the petitioner bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the benefit [of expungement] to the petitioner outweighs the detriment to the public and the burden on the court.” In the Matter of the Welfare of J.J.P., No. A11-1146, decided May 22, 2013.
  • Mississippi Allows Expungement of Certain Felony Convictions: Mississippi enacted legislation to allow individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of conviction to petition the court for expungement of their records five years after the successful completion of all terms and conditions of their sentences. Certain offenses, such as rape, sexual battery, manslaughter, carjacking, burglary, cyber stalking, exploitation of children, armed robbery, or other felonies deemed a violent crime or distribution of a controlled substance, are ineligible for expungement. H.B. 1043/Act No. 557, signed into law April 25, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.

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      • Colorado Youth Convicted of Prostitution-Related Offenses May Petition to Have Records Expunged: Colorado passed legislation that allows youth victims of human trafficking who were convicted of prostitution-related offenses in juvenile court to petition the court to have their records expunged, despite broader state law prohibiting expungement of sex offense records. A petition to expunge juvenile records for prostitution-related offenses may be filed at any time. H.B. 1151/Act No. 174, signed into law May 11, 2012; effective August 8, 2012.
      • Maryland — Youth Transferred Back to Juvenile Court Become Eligible for Expungement of Criminal Records: Maryland amended its expungement provisions to allow youth transferred or “reverse waived” from adult court back to juvenile court for disposition at sentencing to file a petition for expungement and the court is required to grant it. Previously, youth could only file to expunge criminal charges when they were reverse waived to juvenile court prior to trial . S.B. 678/Act No. 563, signed into law May 22, 2012; effective October 1, 2012.
      • Michigan Expands Juvenile Record Expungement: Michigan youth may now petition for expungement of their juvenile records at age 18 or one year after adjudication, whichever is later. Records may be expunged for up to one felony and two misdemeanors, or, if the youth has no felony adjudications, up to three misdemeanors. Any offenses committed together within a 12-hour period are considered one incident. A non-public record will still be maintained by law enforcement. H.B. 5600/Act No. 527, signed into law and effective December 28, 2012.
      • Ohio Addresses Collateral Consequences for Youth: The Ohio General Assembly passed a bill focused on reducing collateral consequences for both adults and youth involved in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. For youth, the law expands eligibility and shortens the timeframe for the expungement of some youth’s juvenile court records, and creates a presumption that youth transferred to adult court be held in juvenile detention facilities instead of adult jails. The law also guarantees that youth who are confined pre-adjudication receive credit toward their sentences for time served in locked facilities. Unfortunately, the original law and subsequent amendments expanded the type of juvenile court records that can be released for certain criminal records checks. S.B. 337/Act No. 131, signed into law June 26, 2012; effective September 28, 2012.
      • Oregon Facilitates Expungement of Youth Prostitution Records: Oregon law now requires expungement of juvenile records for prostitution offenses committed by youth under age 18. Such records may be expunged upon motion of the youth, the juvenile department, or the court, without a waiting period, and without a hearing if no objection is filed. H.B. 4146/Act No. 23, signed into law and effective March 5, 2012.
      • Washington — Youth Who Complete Deferred Dispositions Are Eligible for Record Sealing: Washington State youth whose convictions are vacated after fulfilment of the requirements of a deferred disposition order are now eligible to have their records sealed. Once these youth reach age 18 and have paid required restitution, their files are automatically sealed at an administrative hearing. S.B. 6240/Act No. 177, signed into law March 29, 2012; June 7, 2012.

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      • North Carolina — Legislature Provides for Expungement of Youthful Offender Criminal Records: North Carolina law now provides for expungement of criminal records for 16- and 17-year-olds charged as adults who are first-time offenders. Youth must file a petition for expungement, which must then be approved by the court. Upon approval, criminal records must be expunged from court, law enforcement, and state or local government agency records. S.B. 397/Session Law 2011-278, signed into law June 23, 2011; effective December 1, 2011.
      • Texas — Legislature Restricts Access to Youth Records: A new Texas law makes all records or files related to a youth convicted of a fine-only misdemeanor (other than a traffic offense) confidential. Such records may not be disclosed to the public; they may only be inspected by judges or court staff, a criminal justice agency for a criminal justice purpose, the Department of Public Safety, an attorney for a party in the proceeding, the youth defendant, or the youth defendant’s parent or guardian. Prior to the legislation, any youth convicted of a fine-only misdemeanor had to wait two years before his or her record was sealed; within the two-year window, a background check by a public entity would reveal the conviction. H.B. 961, signed into law and effective June 17, 2011.
      • Washington — Youth May Petition Courts to Seal Certain Records; Legislature Protects Youth from Consumer Reporting: Washington State juvenile courts may now seal the records of youth who committed Class A felonies and sex offenses. Youth who remain crime-free for five years after their release from confinement and have complied with all other conditions of their disposition, including restitution, may ask the court to vacate the adjudication and seal their records from public view. The law also states that if a youth receives a full and unconditional pardon, the proceedings in the matter upon which the pardon was granted must be treated as if they never occurred, and the youth may reply accordingly to any inquiry; all court and law enforcement records must be destroyed within 30 days. The legislation builds upon a law passed in 2010 (S.B. 6561/Ch. 150, signed into law March 22, 2010; effective June 10, 2010). The 2011 law additionally established a joint legislative task force on sealing juvenile records, whose final report includes various proposals around record sealing along with cost estimates. Lastly—addressing a practice that keeps many formerly system-involved youth from achieving their career goals—law now prohibits any consumer reporting agency from including in a consumer report the subject’s juvenile records if he or she is 21 years of age or older at the time of the report. H.B. 1793/Ch. 333, signed into law May 12, 2011; effective July 22, 2011.

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      • Massachusetts — Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Homeless Youth’s Expectation of Privacy: In Commonwealth v. Porter P., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that the warrantless search of a youth’s room at a shelter for homeless families, and the seizure of his firearm, violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Massachusetts law. The court held that the director of the shelter’s consent to the search was inadequate. The court further found that the youth’s statement to the police regarding the firearm should be suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree” of the illegal search and seizure. Commonwealth v. Porter P., 456 Mass. 254 (2010).

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      • Delaware — Legislature Allows for Expungement of Juvenile Records: Finding that “juvenile arrest records are a hindrance to a person’s present and future ability to obtain employment, obtain an education, or to obtain credit,” the Delaware General Assembly passed a law that requires juvenile arrest and delinquency records to be expunged in specific situations. The law also gives the court discretion to grant expungement in other situations, if the court “finds that the continued existence and dissemination of information about the juvenile charges and/or adjudication would work a manifest injustice.” H.B. 177/Ch. 188, signed into law August 22, 2011; effective January 1, 2012.
      • Illinois — Law Prohibits Sending Juvenile Arrest Records to Federal Bureau of Investigation: An Illinois law prohibits the transfer of confidential juvenile arrest records from the Department of State Police to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to further prevent the unnecessary release of confidential juvenile data. The law also improves the process for juveniles with arrests for misdemeanor offenses to clear their records. The law allows youth charged with a misdemeanor as a first offense to file a petition for an expungement review hearing when they turn 18 or at the completion of the sentence, whichever is later. If local prosecutors do not file objections as outlined in the law, expungement will be automatic. S.B. 1030/Public Act 96-0707; signed into law August 25, 2009; effective January 1, 2010.
      • Maryland — Youth Gain Opportunity for Record Expungement: Youth in Maryland may petition for the expungement from the criminal system of an adult charge upon transfer of the case back to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The law repeals provisions limiting the circumstances under which a youth could file for—and a court was required or authorized to grant—expungement of the criminal charge after the case had been transferred to the juvenile court. The law now mandates that upon petition to the juvenile court, the court must order the adult record expunged. This legislation will diminish the stigma for youth of having adult charges on their records in cases where the charges were ultimately deemed most appropriate for juvenile court. H.B. 1227/Ch. 712, signed into law May 19, 2009; effective October 1, 2009.
      • Texas — Youth May Have Records Sealed Immediately After Successful Completion of Drug Court Program: Under a new law, Texas juvenile courts may seal the record of an eligible youth immediately after he or she successfully completes a drug court program. The court has discretion as to the necessity of holding a hearing to consider sealing the records. The new law encourages youth convicted of nonviolent drug offenses to seek treatment and complete a court program, thereby avoiding the collateral consequences of an adjudication. H.B. 2386, signed into law May 27, 2009; effective September 1, 2009.
      • Washington — Courts Must Seal Records of Youth Who Have Successfully Completed Deferred Disposition: Washington courts are now required, within 30 days after a youth’s 18th birthday, to seal a youth’s records of deferred disposition, provided that the youth does not have any pending charges. Previously, the law directed the court to vacate the convictions of youth who had completed the requirements for a deferred disposition, but did not address the sealing of records. H.B. 1954/Ch. 236, signed into law April 25; effective July 26, 2009.

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Photo: Richard Holt, under Creative Commons License