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Juvenile Record Causing Problems? How "Sealing" Can Help

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid

How "Sealing" Can Help Juvenile Record Problems

How do you get a juvenile record?

You may have a juvenile record if you were accused of doing something illegal when you were under 18 years of age.  If the juvenile court finds you engaged in illegal conduct, the court may enter an order saying you committed a delinquent act. In juvenile court, this is not called a conviction, but instead an “adjudication.”  A delinquent act is any violation of state law or local ordinance that would constitute a public offense if committed by an adult. Even if a juvenile court does not enter an order saying you committed a delinquent act, you may still have a juvenile record.

How can my juvenile record affect me?

Many teenagers think the mistakes they have made as minors will be erased from their records when they turn 18 years-old.  Juvenile records, however, are public records and anyone can ask to see them unless a person takes steps to restrict access. Schools and colleges often check to see if a person has a criminal record before allowing admission. Employers, landlords, and lenders will also run criminal background checks.  This means that if you have a juvenile record, it may be hard for you to go to college, find a job, get a loan, or even find a place to live.

What can I do?

You can ask the court to seal your juvenile record.  To seal your record, you must file an application with the court. You can generally file this application if:

  • You are at least 18 years old;

  • At least two years have passed since the last action in your juvenile case;

  • You have had no other convictions of a felony or an aggravated or serious misdemeanor; and

  • There are no charges pending against you that might result in an adjudication or conviction of a serious misdemeanor or more serious offense as an adult. 

Once a judge orders the record be sealed, a notice is sent to all agencies or persons who have the juvenile record asking that they turn those records into the court.  Once this happens, your juvenile record no longer exists as a matter of law. 

It is important to know that this article only relates to actions committed while under the age of 18 that are within the jurisdiction of Juvenile Court. Any criminal record in District Court, whether committed as an adult or juvenile, cannot be sealed. 

Does sealing happen automatically?

A new law effective on July 1, 2014, helps bring the matter of sealing before the court as soon as possible.  The court will now be required to schedule a hearing on sealing the juvenile file two years after the date of the last official action in the case or when the child turns 18, whichever is later.  The law also requires open juvenile cases to be reviewed if they have been open over two years with no final outcome.  A juvenile case that has no final outcome after two years shall be removed so long as there is no outstanding warrant or detainer in the case.

What are some examples of when a case can and cannot be sealed?

The following two examples help illustrate the rules on sealing juvenile records:

Wynona

Wynona just turned 18 and desperately wants to apply at the new Forever 21 store opening downtown.  However, Wynona is worried she won’t get the job.  When she was 15 years old, Wynona was caught shoplifting $100 worth of clothing from another store.  No order was ever entered saying she committed a theft, but a delinquency petition was filed in juvenile court and Wynona agreed to probation.  Wynona finished her probation and has only had a few traffic tickets since.

Does Wynona have a record that should be sealed?

Yes.  A teen has a juvenile record subject to sealing even if she was only taken into custody for a delinquent act or a delinquency petition was filed with the court. Wynona can apply to have her records sealed since: (i) it has been two years since Wynona got into trouble for shoplifting, (ii) she has had no felony or aggravated or serious misdemeanor convictions (her traffic tickets don't count since they were only simple misdemeanors), and (iii) she is 18 years old. Wynona could ask the court to seal her juvenile record. 

Note that even if Wynona's juvenile records have been sealed, it is still possible they could become known or discovered. For example, people in her community may become aware of her actions and could spread by word of mouth or by publicizing information about Wynona on social or other media. In addition, there are a number of commercial entities that "mine" the Internet and public records for information which they then make available to anyone for a fee. If Wynona's actions and/or record were "mined" in this way before being sealed or are otherwise made public, a prospective educational institution, landlord or employer could still find out about the juvenile record.

Romeo

When Romeo was 16 years old, he broke into his girlfriend’s house late one night.  His girlfriend’s dad heard the noise and came downstairs with a baseball bat.  Not realizing who had broken in, he swung the bat.  Luckily, he missed Romeo.  Still, he damaged the kitchen cabinets and broke Romeo’s cell phone.  Upset about his broken phone, Romeo grabbed $50 sitting on the kitchen counter and ran out.  Romeo was adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court for breaking and entering with intent to commit a theft and criminal mischief. 

Two years later, Romeo was caught with marijuana and convicted of possession of a controlled substance, a serious misdemeanor.  Because he was 18 years old, Romeo went through District Court.  He received probation and a fine, which he has not gotten around to paying. Romeo also has on ongoing court case from forging a high school diploma for a friend.  Romeo is now 19 years old and wonders what he can do about his record.

Can Romeo seal his juvenile record?

No. Romeo won’t be able to seal his juvenile record for three reasons.  First, he was convicted of a serious misdemeanor within two years of his adjudication in juvenile court. Second, Romeo has an unpaid court fine.  Third, he has a pending court case for forgery, another serious misdemeanor. 

Are there any other options for preventing access to my juvenile criminal record?

  • Confidentiality Orders.

A judge can issue a confidentiality order if a case was dismissed, the person is no longer subject to juvenile court jurisdiction and making the record confidential is in the best interests of the public. 

While a Confidentiality Order offers less protection than sealing since the record still exists as a matter of law, it is an alternative if you do not qualify to have it sealed.

  • Expungement.

Certain portions of your juvenile criminal record may be expunged under limited circumstances. The court will only expunge the record if:

  • The court did not transfer your case to an adult court, and

  • Between the ages of 18-21, you were not convicted of a felony, aggravated misdemeanor, or serious misdemeanor.

If a juvenile record is expunged, it is no longer available to the public.

Conclusion:

The best way to keep your record clean is to not get in trouble in the first place. If you do make a foolish mistake as a minor, you may be able to seal your juvenile record to help avoid the public stigma and limitations on your educational, employment and financial opportunities.

This is a brief summary of the law on sealing juvenile criminal records.  There are additional requirements and exceptions that are not covered by this article.  If you have questions about sealing your juvenile criminal record, you should talk to an attorney.

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 iowalegalaid.org
 
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org.   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 advice. 
Last Review and Update: Jul 23, 2014
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