Increased Confidentiality of Juvenile Records

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded


A new law will give more protection for juveniles who have been charged with a delinquent act by keeping the records of the proceedings confidential.  A delinquent act is the term used in juvenile proceedings for an act that is a crime if done by an adult. 

The juvenile court can be given evidence that the juvenile did something against the law. The court may enter an order accusing the juvenile of committing a delinquent act.  This is similar to being charged with a crime in district court, which is where adult cases are heard.  If the juvenile court then decides that the allegations are true, a juvenile may be adjudicated delinquent.  The juvenile court uses the word adjudicated instead of convicted.

Current law

Currently, the law allows for juvenile court records in these cases to be a public record, unless the court later finds grounds to seal the record.  The records can be accessed at the county clerk of court’s office, or on the electronic database called “Iowa Courts Online.”  Schools and colleges often conduct background checks before allowing admission.  Potential employers, landlords and lenders also often conduct background checks.  As long as the record remains public, it will be available for people to access.

Currently there are very limited circumstances in which the court may order the records to be kept confidential.  Either the court or the person who is the subject of the case can file a motion.  Then the court must find that both the case has been dismissed and that making the records confidential is in the best interest of the person and the public. 

Change to the law 

A new law goes into effect on July 1, 2016, and will apply to juvenile proceedings already pending on or arising after that date.  It requires that records and files of all juvenile delinquency cases remain confidential with only one exception: an act that would be a forcible felony if committed by an adult.  A forcible felony includeschild endangerment, assault, murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, robbery, human trafficking, arson in the first degree, or burglary in the first degree.  Not all of these acts automatically amount to a felony.  There are often various degrees for each of these crimes. 

Confidential records are different than sealed records in juvenile court.  While confidential records are not public records, they may still be inspected without a court order by many different people. These include the judge, professional court staff, the child and the child’s attorney, the child’s parent or guardian, the court attorney, the superintendent of the school district attended by the child, state or local law enforcement and the alleged victim of the delinquent act. 

Under the new law, there are still some limited circumstances when the juvenile court can order the records to remain public in cases that do not involve the allegation of a forcible felony.  But these circumstances exist only if any person or the court files a motion and any of the following apply:

  • The public’s interest in making the records public is greater than the juvenile’s interest in keeping the records confidential;
  • The case will be transferred to the district court for sentencing before the child’s eighteenth birthday due the seriousness of the crime; or
  • The juvenile court case is still open and the juvenile has since been adjudicated delinquent for a different act or there is a pending juvenile case for an act that would be a serious misdemeanor, aggravated misdemeanor, or felony if committed by an adult.

In cases where the alleged act would be a forcible felony if committed by an adult, the court can still order that the records be kept confidential, but only in limited circumstances.  The process is similar to the current law about all juvenile delinquency cases.  Either the court or the person who is the subject of the case can file a motion.  The court will only order the records be kept confidential if it finds both that the case has been dismissed and that the child’s interest in making the records confidential is greater than the public interest in the records remaining public.

Sealing of records

Sealed records are even more protected than confidential records.  Both currently and after the law changes, the court is required to schedule a hearing either two years after the last official action was taken in the case, or the date the person turns eighteen, whichever is later.  After the hearing, the court will order the record sealed if it makes the following findings:

  • The person is eighteen years of age or older;
  • Two years have passed since the last official action in the case;
  • The person has not since been convicted of a felony or aggravated or serious misdemeanor; and
  • There are no pending charges seeking conviction or adjudication of a felony or aggravated or serious misdemeanor.

After the law goes into effect, the court must also find, in addition to the above findings, that the juvenile was not adjudicated for operating a vehicle while under the influence.

There are some cases when the court may decline to order that the record be sealed.  These are cases where a person was adjudicated delinquent of an offense that if committed by an adult would be an aggravated misdemeanor or a felony.  In such a case, the court will only order the records sealed if also finds that sealing the records is in the best interests of the person and the public.

Once a record is sealed, it no longer exists as a matter of law.  The juvenile court and any other agency with the records will respond to any request for the records as if they do not exist.  The only exception is if the court issues an order disclosing the contents of the records at the request of the person who is the subject of the records.  Once the records are sealed, they are not available to the general public. Even those who once had access to the confidential records, such as court staff and law enforcement, can no longer access them.

There is a possibility that evidence of the record may appear on a background check even after the record has been sealed.  This is because there are businesses that create databases of criminal records and then sell these databases to parties such as employers and landlords.  These businesses initially get their information from the official public record.  The problem is that they often then fail to update and correct the information.  This means a charge may remain in these databases and show up on a background check even after the official public record has been sealed.  If this situation arises, you should contact an attorney for assistance with disputing the accuracy of the information.

Where can an individual get help with issues related to disclosure of his or her juvenile record?

Contact Iowa Legal Aid.

  • Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
    • To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
    • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
    • apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advicece.

Last Review and Update: May 10, 2016

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