In California, all your arrests and crimes are entered into your criminal record, which is open to public access. Like adult criminal records, the records of your juvenile offenses could have long-lasting effects on your life. Your juvenile records include arrest documents, court orders, probation, and investigation reports.

Depending on the extent of your record and the seriousness of your crimes, juvenile records could impact your ability to join college, receive government funding for school, and secure employment. There are legal means through which you can avoid the collateral consequences of your juvenile mistakes. Sealing a juvenile record means that the record will not be accessible to the public and cannot be used against you.

Sealing your record involves filing a petition with the court and attending a record-sealing hearing. Sealing your juvenile record is complex and involves numerous pieces of paperwork. A mistake in the filing process can result in the denial of your petition. Therefore, having expert legal guidance from the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney is critical. We serve clients seeking to seal their juvenile records in Chula Vista, CA.

Overview of Sealing Juvenile Records

Arrests and criminal charges can have a devastating impact on your life. When you commit a minor or adult crime, your arrest, court process, and conviction details are entered into your criminal record. In California, criminal records are public, and any person who carries out a background check on you could find these records.

Someone could be interested in your criminal record when you seek employment, make a college application, or seek a place to live. Most employers will discriminate against you when you have a criminal record, and acceptance to good colleges can be challenging.

Under Welfare and Institutions Code 781, sealing your juvenile record involves destroying and removing the records from public access. Most people assume their juvenile records will be automatically sealed when they become adults. The reality is that your childhood mistakes can follow you for the rest of your life unless the court issues a judicial order to seal the records.

Before the court seals your juvenile records, you must meet the eligibility criteria and file a petition. With the guidance of a criminal attorney, you can gather all your juvenile records and file your petition. If the judge agrees to have your records sealed, you can truthfully answer no when asked about past arrests and sustained juvenile petitions.

What Constitutes Juvenile Records in California?

Your juvenile records include all documents and items seized during the arrest, case investigations, and sentencing. Minors are tried under the juvenile justice system, which differs from adult criminals' treatment.

When you petition the court to seal your juvenile record, you need an attorney to assess all your records to determine the relevant documents to include in the record-sealing petition. The common types of juvenile records include the following:

Arrest Records

When a minor is arrested for violating California law, they are booked into juvenile hall. The booking process involves:

  • Fingerprinting.
  • Recording of identification information.
  • Taking a photograph of the juvenile offender.

If the officers collect this information from a minor during an arrest, the details will be put on record.

Court Exhibits

Juveniles face charges for committing a wide variety of offenses. These offenses vary from minor curfew violations to serious crimes like murder and rape. The juvenile case might involve the presentation of physical evidence and exhibits.

The exhibits are often the items or weapons used to commit the crime. If the juvenile petition is sustained, the exhibits will be kept as part of the child’s criminal record. When your juvenile records are sealed, these exhibits and the documents pertaining to your case will be destroyed.

Court's Ruling

The court judgments and rulings are the records kept as the juvenile cases progress. The document indicating the court’s final decision in your case is important. Whether your case ended in an acquittal, dismissal, or sustained juvenile petition, you must petition the court to seal the record. When preparing for your petition, your lawyer will help seal all your court rulings.

Probation Reports

Probation is a common disposition for many juvenile cases. A minor can be sent on formal or informal probation. While on probation, the court imposes several conditions the child must follow. The probation department monitors a minor’s progress and writes a report.

The probation report indicates the child’s performance on probation and the likelihood of rehabilitation after the disposition. When sealing your juvenile records, you must ensure the probation report is among the filed documents.

Eligibility Criteria for Sealing Juvenile Records

Before you file a petition to seal your juvenile records, you must ensure that you meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Time limits. California law allows you to seal your juvenile record when you turn eighteen. This age limit helps ensure that a juvenile will not escape the consequences of their actions by sealing the record.
  • Subsequent violations and convictions. You can seal your juvenile record if you have not been charged with a serious violation as an adult. The court will not grant your record-sealing petition for individuals with an extensive criminal record that continues into adulthood.
  • Type of offense. If you committed a serious crime of moral turpitude as a juvenile, the court may deny your petition to seal the record.

Steps for Sealing Juvenile Records in California

Understanding the legal process to seal your juvenile record is important for ensuring a fast and smooth process. Sealing your juvenile record under Welfare and Institutions Code 781 takes up to ten months. The following are the steps necessary to seal your juvenile records:

File a Petition to Seal the Record

Your lawyer will help you file your record-sealing petition in court. The petition acts as the backbone of your case. Therefore, you must ensure all necessary documents are attached to the petition. Your petition must include all documents related to the specific juvenile case.

Additionally, you must include arguments that support your request for record sealing. Filing a petition as soon as you meet the eligibility criteria helps you avoid the inconveniences of the statute of limitations.

Attend the Court Interview

When the court receives your petition, the judge will prepare for a juvenile court interview. Your criminal attorney can represent you at this interview. The judge will ask critical questions about your petition at the court interview. Although attending the interview is not compulsory for you, being present could give a good first impression of you to the court. After the interview, the court will set a convenient hearing date for you to be present.

Attend the Hearing

The court will formally notify you when they have decided on the hearing date for your record-dealing petition. Unlike the court interview, you must be present at your court hearing. If you cannot appear on the specific date set by the court, you can communicate through your attorney and have the schedule changed.

At your court hearing, the judge will listen and assess the arguments that you present. Your attorney can collect evidence of your rehabilitation to convince the court to seal your record. Common evidence that could convince the court to grant your petition includes your probation report and evidence that you have not committed other offenses.

The prosecutor may attend your hearing and attempt to dispute the petition. This could delay the process and sometimes cause the dismissal of your petition. Your attorney can ensure that the prosecution supports your petition by notifying them about your case before the hearing.

Court's Decision

If you meet all the requirements and provide convincing evidence, the judge could accept your request to seal the juvenile records. The judge will then order all the agencies with copies of the records to seal them and remove them from public access. If the court turns down your petition, you can correct the mistakes and refile it after some time.

Benefits of Sealing Your Juvenile Record

A juvenile record can affect multiple aspects of your life and deny you some life-changing opportunities. You can enjoy these benefits by sealing the juvenile record:

  • Ease of securing employment. Most employers in California are reluctant to employ individuals with criminal records. This is done to protect the well-being of other employees and safeguard the company’s reputation. When your sustained juvenile petition shows up on a background check, you can miss out on an employment opportunity.
  • You can receive a professional license. The licensing board will check your criminal record for professions requiring a practice license. A juvenile record can prevent you from receiving a license, ruining your career. A sealed record will not appear on your criminal record and will not be used against you.
  • Reduced stigma. Some people will treat you differently when they learn about your juvenile record. However, the mistakes you make as a minor do not have to follow you into adulthood. When you seal the juvenile record, you can avoid the social stigma.
  • You can qualify for government funding. A juvenile criminal record can lower your chances of acceptance to a good college. Even when you are accepted to the school of your choice, you cannot take out undergraduate loans. With a sealed record, you can truthfully state that you have never been arrested or charged with an offense.

Reopening a Sealed Juvenile Record

When your juvenile record is sealed, the public cannot access it. Therefore, you will be free from discrimination and other disabilities associated with the record. Under the following circumstances, the court can reopen your sealed juvenile record:

  • You face a defamation lawsuit. You have to wait several years to seal your juvenile record. Therefore, some people may have accessed it and judged you against it. If you file a defamation lawsuit against another person, the information in the sealed juvenile records can be relevant evidence to discredit the defamation.
  • For scrutiny by insurance companies. When you apply for motor vehicle insurance, the company will perform background checks to determine your risk. If you sealed a juvenile record for underage DUI, the record could be reopened for the insurance company. The Department of Motor Vehicles regulates the opening of records to ensure that the insurance company receives only relevant information.

Frequently Asked Questions on Sealing Juvenile Records in California

A sealed record can also be destroyed, meaning it cannot be used to discriminate against you. However, sealing the record involves numerous forms and court appearances. You need legal representation to avoid making mistakes that can cause a denial of your petition. The following are frequently asked questions about sealing juvenile records:

Do I need to seal my juvenile record if I was never convicted?

California PC 851.7 allows individuals arrested but not convicted to have their juvenile records sealed. If you were arrested for a misdemeanor and the case did not result in a conviction, your record can be sealed under these circumstances:

  • You were Acquitted of the Charges

Like in adult criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a minor committed an offense. The prosecution will present different forms of evidence to the court. The judge will sustain the juvenile petition if the evidence presented against the minor is sufficient.

Sometimes, an arrest, even without a conviction, can impact your life significantly. If you are acquitted of the charges, you do not have to wait until you turn eighteen to seal the record.

  • You were Released for Insufficient Evidence

When a minor faces an arrest in California, they are detained in juvenile hall or released to go home with a pending case. During this period, the prosecution will investigate the circumstances of the offense before filing juvenile charges. If insufficient evidence supports the charge, the case will be dismissed.

What is the difference between the expungement and sealing of a record?

Different types of post-conviction relief are available for an individual with a criminal history in California. Expungement of your record under PC 1203.4 and sealing the record are the most common ways to avoid the disabilities of your conviction.

Record sealing involves the destruction of the criminal record. A sealed record ceases to exist and cannot be accessed by individuals who perform a background check on you. You can only seal the record for adult offenders if you were arrested and did not face a conviction.

You can petition individuals with a juvenile record to have it sealed, even if you suffered a juvenile disposition. With an expungement, your conviction remains on record but cannot be used against you. The expungement process may only be available for minors who are tried as adults for their juvenile delinquency.

Will a sealed juvenile record be destroyed?

Sealing and destroying your juvenile record are separate actions under California law. The court will damage the juvenile record for some individuals when the judge grants your petition to seal it. However, this only happens in some cases.

The judge orders your sealed juvenile record to be destroyed in different phases, which include:

  • Up to seventy months after record sealing. The court will destroy your record after five years if you are declared a ward of the court. Being a ward in California is equated with pleading guilty to the underlying offense.
  • You turn thirty-eight years old. The court may consider you a danger to society if you are declared a ward of the court for committing a serious offense. In this case, your sealed juvenile record will be destroyed when you turn thirty-eight. Before destroying the record, the court will assess your criminal conduct following the record sealing.

Is the juvenile court system similar to that of the criminal court?

The arrest process and trial are similar, except for the following:

  • A right to bail. When an adult offender is arrested and charged with a criminal offense, they do not need to remain in jail awaiting trial. Instead, the offender can post bail and walk free while the case is pending. The court will hold a detention hearing for minor offenders, where the judge can decide whether to detain or release the minor before trial.
  • Conviction. Although the prosecution will present different types of evidence to prove that the juvenile committed an alleged offense, minors are not convicted. After the judge has listened to all the evidence, they can dismiss or sustain the juvenile petition. If the juvenile court sustains the petition, the minor will be sent to different programs that are aimed at rehabilitation.

When will the court automatically seal my juvenile record?

When a minor is charged with an offense not listed under WIC 707(b), the court can automatically seal their record without needing a petition. However, the judge will assess the child’s performance on probation before sealing the record. The probation department plays a significant role in juvenile cases.

For minors who commit minor offenses, the court can sentence them to formal or informal juvenile probation. Depending on the circumstances of the juvenile case, the judge imposes various conditions that the child must follow. When assessing the minor's probation performance, the court wants to ensure that the minor follows through with all probation terms.

Therefore, if your child faces probation for a sustained juvenile petition, you should encourage them to comply with the terms.

Will the court seal juvenile records for all minors?

California law is less stringent for juvenile offenders than for adult criminals. Allowing you to seal the records of your juvenile crimes helps you have a fresh start in life. Under the following circumstances, you cannot seal your juvenile record:

  • You were Charged as an Adult.

Minors lack the necessary mental capacity to make the right decisions. Therefore, individuals under eighteen are tried in juvenile court. The juvenile justice system aims at the rehabilitation of minors instead of punishment. There are circumstances under which a minor could be treated as an adult, including:

  1. You committed a serious offense. If a minor is charged with committing serious crimes like murder, rape, manslaughter, or arson, they can be transferred to adult court.
  2. You displayed a high degree of criminal sophistication in your juvenile crimes. If the juvenile court finds that the minor used sophisticated tactics to plan and accomplish the crime, they can be charged as adults for their crime.
  3. There are no programs to rehabilitate the child in juvenile court. For minors with an extensive criminal record, the juvenile court may lack the necessary programs to discourage the child from committing other crimes.

You cannot seal your juvenile record if you are tried as an adult for your juvenile crimes. You must find alternative measures in adult court to destroy the criminal record.

  • You were Registered as a Sex Offender

When a juvenile over fourteen commits a serious sex crime like rape, the court could impose sex offender registration. In this case, the duration of sex offender registration will vary depending on the offense you are charged with. If your juvenile offense resulted in sex-offender registration, you would not be eligible to seal your juvenile record.

  • You Faced a Conviction for a Crime of Moral Turpitude as an Adult

When you file a petition to seal your juvenile record in California, the court will assess multiple aspects of your life before granting the petition. If you have been charged with serious crimes like murder, forgery, or drug violations, the court will deny your petition.

Find a Skilled Defense Attorney Near Me

Dealing with the consequences of your juvenile records can be challenging. The opportunity to seal the deal and put your past behind you is thrilling. The records are not sealed automatically. You must file a petition requesting that the court grant the relief. You must also attend the hearing to convince the judge why you deserve to have the record sealed.

If the judge grants your petition to seal the juvenile records, you are no longer obligated to disclose the record's contents to potential employers or while applying for college. You must meet the eligibility criteria before you file the petition to seal your juvenile record. Unless your case was dismissed without a conviction, you must wait until you turn eighteen to file the petition.

Finding a reliable attorney to guide you could make the process easier if you want to seal your juvenile records in Chula Vista, CA. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, clients work with highly trained and experienced criminal defense attorneys, increasing their cases’ success. Contact us today at 619-877-6894 for much-needed legal counsel.