It is a phrase that most of us have heard of, even if it is something we don’t quite understand. Having your juvenile records sealed is not something that happens automatically, even though most juveniles simply assume that once you turn 18, any records of any crimes that happened just go away. It is important that you realize that they don’t, and that if you want your records sealed, you have to complete an entire process within the court system. Let’s take a look at how this system works and why it is necessary.
If you choose to have your records sealed, it means that no one can have access to the crimes you committed or the court cases that dealt with those crimes while you were under the age of 18. This can be very important, especially if you are later accused of a crime as an adult. The prosecution can’t use your previous trouble against you in a court of law. It is simply a smart way to protect yourself in case you should happen to run into trouble later on in life. The only person who can ask that these records be unsealed is you. No judge, no official, no one at all can unseal these records but you.
It is important to note that any records where you were tried as an adult can not be sealed and are a part of your permanent record for the rest of your life. Any requests to seal these records will be rejected immediately.
To seal your juvenile records you must take several steps. The rules for sealing and unsealing your records likely differ from state to state, but the rules in California are typical of the hoops you will be expected to jump through to protect yourself from future problems due to your juvenile records. First, you will be asked to fill out a pair of forms, known as a “Record Sealing Application” and an “Affidavit and Petition for the Sealing of Records” to the state to begin the process. You will then be asked to attend a screening where the basic rules of sealing your records are gone over and a decision will be made regarding whether your records qualify to be sealed. If you pass that screening, a more in-depth look at your own personal situation will take place. The whole process from top to bottom usually takes somewhere around five months, but it can be longer if the system is backed up.
You will receive a letter in the mail telling you that a court date has been set to hear your request to seal your records. In most cases, if your attempt to seal your records is not being contested, it is a formality and you don’t even have to show up. However, if someone is contesting it, then you will be required to show up in court. The hearing simply goes over your record and a decision is made one way or the other.
While the process can seem lengthy, it is always a good idea to try to seal your records to protect yourself in the future.