If you have juvenile convictions hanging over your head, you may face difficulty finding a job, renting an apartment or even buying a new car. You may think that this is simply part of the consequences of the foolishness of your youth and that you can't do anything about it. In many instances, you can get your records expunged and get a fresh start. Here's what you need to know about getting rid of your juvenile criminal records.
What is expungement?
The meaning of expungement can vary slightly from state to state. In some states it means that your records will be sealed and will not be visible to the public. In this case, your juvenile records will be removed from the criminal justice files and stored in a separate file. This file may be viewed by specific people, like the criminal justice system or others. Other states define expungement as the destruction of criminal records so that the record of your arrest and conviction no longer exists. The terms sealing and expungement may be used interchangeably by some states.
Aren't all juvenile records sealed or expunged?
You may have assumed that all juvenile records are sealed or expunged when you reach the age of 18, but this isn't always the case. While some states do automatically seal or expunge juvenile records when you become an adult, some states require you to apply for expungement. Check your state's expungement requirements to find out what you need to do to have your juvenile records sealed or expunged.
Do you need to disclose an expungement on applications?
No. When your juvenile records are expunged, the court has determined that they no longer exist. You can answer "no" on applications that ask if you have a prior criminal record or convictions. Your potential employer or landlord cannot access your old records, and they will not show up on a criminal background check. You can legally answer "no" on applications without any consequences.
Can anyone access your juvenile records?
Yes. Even though the court system has determined your records "no longer exist," there are some people who can access these invisible records. Certain government agencies, law enforcement and the criminal court system can access the records. In some cases, such as during sentencing for a crime you commit after the records were expunged or in a deportation hearing, the expunged or sealed records can be viewed and used as evidence of a prior crime.
Can all juvenile records be expunged?
Each state sets its own rules on which juvenile records can be expunged. While some allow expungement of all juvenile offenses, some prohibit serious juvenile offenses from expungement. Serious juvenile offenses typically refer to crimes that would have been considered a felony, if the offender were an adult. If you have been arrested for or convicted of a criminal offense as an adult, the courts may also deny your application to expunge juvenile criminal records.
Do you need a lawyer to get records expunged?
You can file for expungement of your juvenile records without the assistance of a lawyer, but criminal defense attorneys have the experience and expertise to assist you in the process. Most states require an application and a fee to expunge your juvenile records. It is important that the paperwork is filled out and filed properly. A lawyer can help you with the process and improve your chances of getting your juvenile records expunged.
Getting your juvenile records expunged can give you a fresh start and may make landing that job or renting the apartment of your dreams easier. While the indiscretions of your youth won't disappear completely, they will be invisible to the prying eyes of potential employers and landlords.