Many people with juvenile records are unaware that, even after they turn 18, their records are still available to be viewed by employers, school officials, landlords, state licensing agencies and other individuals and institutions that can impact their life and livelihood. However, while your juvenile record won’t automatically be sealed when you turn 18, you can seek a judicial order to have it sealed and destroyed.  

If you have a juvenile record in the state of California, your attorney can assist you in filing a petition to have your record sealed under California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC. The mistakes you made when you were young shouldn’t limit your future opportunities. Having your juvenile record sealed is an important step toward the fresh start that you deserve.

What will sealing your juvenile record do?

“Sealing” your record essentially means that the documents in your file will no longer exist. Arrest reports, exhibits, probation reports, or any other information contained within the file will cease to be public record and will not be available to employers, school officials, or anyone else who may look into your criminal or arrest history. Additionally, you will no longer be required to reveal certain stigmatizing information when asked questions like:

  • Do you have a criminal record? Or,
  • Have you ever been arrested?

Sealing you record means that you will legally be allowed to answer, “no” to the above questions. Additionally, once your record is sealed, you will not be required to disclose that you have a sealed juvenile record.

Who is eligible to have their juvenile record sealed?

Under Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC, you are eligible to have your juvenile record sealed if you meet the following criteria: 

  1. Your are at least 18 years of age, or the juvenile court jurisdiction terminated at least five years ago.
  2. There is no pending civil litigation related to the juvenile offenses on your record
  3. The court believes that you have been sufficiently rehabilitated
  4. As an adult, you have not been convicted of any misdemeanor or felony crimes of “moral turpitude” such as sex offenses, drug offenses, or fraud

Under California Welfare and Institutions code 707(b), There are certain offenses that, when committed after the age of 14, disqualify you from being able to seal your juvenile record. These offenses include:

  • California violent felony crimes
  • Murder or attempted murder under California Penal Code 187 PC
  • Robbery, Penal Code 211 PC
  • Arson, Penal Code 451 PC
  • California firearms offenses

What is the process for having a juvenile record sealed?

Before undergoing the process of petitioning to have your juvenile record sealed, you first need to hire a criminal defense attorney who can help to determine your eligibility and facilitate the process. The steps to having your juvenile record sealed will most likely unfold as follows:

  1. Your attorney will file a petition with the court to have your record sealed
  2. After receiving your petition, a judge will set a date for your hearing 
  3. There will be a hearing to determine whether your petition will be granted. Your attorney will most likely be allowed to appear at the hearing on your behalf unless the judge specifically requires you to appear.
  4. The judge will either approve or deny your petition
  5. If your petition is approved, all agencies in possession of your juvenile record will be sent an order to seal and destroy them
  6. If your petition is denied, your attorney can file another petition on your behalf at an appropriate time.

On average, the entire process of having a juvenile record sealed takes about eight to ten months. 

Can a sealed juvenile record be reopened?

In most cases, once a juvenile record has been sealed, it won’t be reopened and may even be destroyed. However, under some specific circumstances, a juvenile record might be reopened.

  1. Criminal cases – if a prosecutor has reason to believe that a sealed juvenile record may contain some evidence that would clear someone of guilt for an accuses crime, they may be granted access to reopen the record.
  1. Insurance eligibility –  the California Department of Motor Vehicles may grant access to you sealed juvenile record to insurance adjustors as a means of evaluating your risk and insurance eligibility 
  1. Civil lawsuits – in a civil defamation lawsuit, a juvenile record may be reopened during the proceedings, but will be resealed once the lawsuit has been resolved

Is sealing your juvenile record the same thing as destroying it?

In most cases, a juvenile record is destroyed once it is sealed. However, there are some special cases in which the court may decide that a juvenile record should be retained by the court after it has been sealed. Even in these rare instances, the juvenile record will eventually be destroyed:

  • 5 years after the record has been sealed (if a judge has declared you a ward of the court), OR
  • When you reach 38 years of age

Benefits of sealing your juvenile record

If you’re trying to decide whether you should petition to have your juvenile record sealed, understanding the potential benefits can help you to make that decision. 

While a juvenile record is not the same as a criminal record from convictions obtained as an adult, it does carry with it many of the downsides and potential stigmas. Because juvenile court proceedings are considered criminal proceedings under California law, if you were found guilty of an offense while under the age of 18, you don’t technically have a criminal conviction on your record. This means that you are not legally required to report juvenile convictions when asked about your criminal record. Unfortunately, while it is within your rights not to disclose juvenile convictions as criminal, some potential employers, school officials, or licensing agencies might still consider your lack of disclosure to be dishonest if they later discover that you have an unsealed juvenile record. 

Having your records sealed under WIC 781 can protect you from unfair stigmatization and from having to explain your past mistakes to people who you hope will recognize your current and future potential. 

While the process of petitioning to have your juvenile record sealed might feel daunting (as any type of legal process can), the numerous benefits make the undertaking well worth the time. Your professional, personal, and academic life can all be benefitted by:

  • Not being obligated to disclose any criminal history
  • Not risking discrimination from landlords, employers, or academic officials for having a juvenile record
  • If applicable, no longer being required to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC due to a juvenile conviction

Perhaps the greatest benefit of sealing your juvenile record will be the sense of relief, freedom, and possibility that you will feel in putting your past mistakes behind you and moving on with a clean slate and a fresh start. Additionally, a good criminal defense attorney will do the hard work for you, making the process feel as easy and hassle-free as possible.

If you live in the Ventura area and are interested in petitioning to have your juvenile record sealed, attorney Robert M. Helfend can help you get started on the process today. As a California criminal defense attorney who has been representing clients in the Ventura and Los Angeles area for over three decades, Mr. Helfend’s extensive legal knowledge and expertise will make the process of sealing your record as smooth and efficient as possible. Now is the perfect time to close the door on your past mistakes and open a new door to a brighter future. Call 805-273-5611 to schedule your free case evaluation.