One of the great things about growing up is that we have the ability to redefine ourselves, and move on from the awkward kid or rebellious teenagers we were in our early years.
A lot of people think that turning 18 years old acts as a brick wall that stops any arrests or crimes that happened in the past from affecting you in the future, but that’s just not the case. Without addressing your juvenile criminal record, what you think is a brick wall is more like a fence where those arrests and crimes can leak through and affect your future prospects. The unfortunate news is, while we’re able to move on from embarrassing hairstyles and bad choices of friends, it can be a little more difficult to move on with our lives if we have a juvenile criminal record. Fortunately, California law allows you to move on from your past by “sealing” those records.
The California law that dictates the process of sealing your juvenile records (which includes arrests and convictions for certain crimes) is outlined in several California code sections including California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC, California Penal Code 851.7 PC, and California Penal Code 1000 PC.
FYI: Rather than being found "guilty" or "convicted" of a charge as a juvenile, the charges against you are instead "found true." For the purposes of this article, we will just refer to these findings as convictions.
Should probation and juvenile courts tell me my rights regarding clearing my juvenile record?
As of January 1, 2015, courts and probation departments are bound by law to ensure that information regarding the sealing and destruction of juvenile records is available to convicted juveniles and those taken into custody once their case is dismissed or concludes.
What is included in my juvenile record?
The criminal justice system is filled with tons of process and procedures in relation to being arrested, charged with a crime, and convicted of a crime. Each stage of these procedures produces documents that record information that may negatively affect you in the future if they aren’t dealt with, including police reports, a judge’s rulings, probation reports, etc. All of these documents are included in your juvenile record, which makes it all the more important to seal them. When you seal these records, they are no longer available to the public, and you can start your adult life with a clean slate.
Am I eligible to seal my juvenile record?
Your eligibility to seal your juvenile record can depend on the specific facts of your case, including whether you were charged, what type of crime you were charged with, whether the case was dismissed, or whether you received a deferred entry of judgment.
Arrested but no charges filed
Similar to sealing your adult arrest record, if you were arrested and no charges were filed against you, you can petition to have your arrest sealed under California Welfare and Institutions Code 781.5 WIC if you are found “factually innocent” by the law enforcement agency that you first send your petition to.
Arrested for misdemeanor
California Penal Code 851.7 PC covers juveniles who were charged with a misdemeanor, and who were released because there was insufficient evidence to hold them for the charges, had the charges against them dismissed, were discharged without a conviction, or were acquitted of the charge. Essentially, this would apply if you were arrested and nothing happened beyond that with the court.
Arrested, charged, and convicted
If you were arrested, were charged with a crime, and were on probation as a minor you may apply to get your record sealed under California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC.
Under 781 WIC, you can get your record sealed only if you have not been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony as an adult that involves “moral turpitude”, and if you have not committed a serious crime listed in California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) WIC after you turned 14 years old. 707(b) WIC crimes include murder, attempted murder, arson, and carjacking. Crimes of moral turpitude include those that are considered to show dishonest and immoral behavior, and include theft crimes, fraud crimes, certain sex offenses, and certain drug offenses.
In addition, you must satisfactorily persuade the court of your rehabilitation, and you cannot have any pending civil litigation arising from any of your juvenile incidents.
Arrested but granted deferred entry of judgment
If you were arrested, were charged with a crime, assigned to a program by the court (a deferred entry of judgment program under California Penal Code 1000 PC), and successfully completed the program, chances are the charges against you were dismissed. Further, upon successful completion of a deferred entry of judgment program, the arrest upon which the judgment was deferred should also have been removed from your record.
When can I ask to seal my juvenile record?
Under 781.5 WIC (where you were arrested but never charged) you can petition to have a finding of “factual innocence” for up to three years after the date of your arrest or citation.
Under 851.7 PC (where you had the charges dismissed, or were acquitted of the charge) you can ask to seal your juvenile records at anytime.
You can request to seal your juvenile record under 781 WIC if more than five years have passed from the time you appeared before a court, probation, or law enforcement official, or after you have turned 18 years old, whichever comes first.
How do I seal my juvenile record?
Typically, under the code sections listed above, you or your criminal defense lawyer will petition the court to seal the records associated with a particular arrest/charge.
Remember that one of the elements for clearing your record under 781 WIC is to show the court that you have been rehabilitated. This is when you or your defense lawyer present evidence to convince the judge that the rehabilitation has occurred.
In the case of clearing an arrest, the petition will start at the law enforcement agency that made the arrest, and could continue to the court if it’s denied by the law enforcement agency. At this point, both sides can present their arguments, and the district attorney may use declarations, affidavits, police reports, or any other evidence submitted by the parties that is material, relevant, and reliable to show whether or not there was reasonable cause for the arrest.
What are the benefits of sealing my juvenile record?
There are substantial professional and personal benefits to sealing your juvenile records.
If you were convicted of a crime as a juvenile that required you to register under California’s Sex Offender Registration Act but you were successful in your petition to seal your records, the court will issue an order that you are relieved from the sex offender registration requirement and will also order the destruction of registration information in the custody of the Department of Justice and other agencies and officials.
In addition, when you win a petition to seal and destroy your juvenile records, your record will read as if the arrest or conviction didn't even happen. The police reports, fingerprints, booking photos, and all other records of the arrest get eliminated. Further, if an employer or someone else asks if you have a criminal history, you can legally answer "no" if you are ever asked if you were ever arrested or if you have a criminal record.