One would think that his or her juvenile court records would automatically be held by the juvenile court under seal and accessible by the public only after obtaining a court order and showing a particularized need. After all, the overriding purpose of the juvenile delinquency process is to “provide for the care, protection, and mental and physical development of children …, protect the public interest and safety, hold the offender accountable for the offender’s actions, restore the victim, and rehabilitate the offender.” Juvenile delinquency cases are civil – not criminal – in nature, so as to avoid stigmatizing juveniles with criminal convictions.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Juvenile records filed within the juvenile court clerk’s office are generally available to the public. Thus, prospective employers, school officials, institutions of higher education, and even nosey neighbors can show up at the clerk’s office and ask to see a particular juvenile delinquency file.
Therefore, it is imperative that juveniles with delinquency records seek to exhaust all legal remedies to ensure that they truly are given a fresh start at becoming productive members of society. In Ohio, there is a two-step process for eliminating a juvenile delinquency record. The first step involves “sealing the record”, with the second being “expungement”.
Step 1: Sealing the Record
To “seal a record” means to “remove a record from the main file of similar records and to secure it in a separate file that contains only sealed records accessible only to the juvenile court”.
The juvenile court is required to “promptly order the immediate sealing of records pertaining to a juvenile” on its own accord in certain situations, such as when a juvenile successfully completes a diversion program, the delinquency complaint is dismissed, or the person turns 18 years of age and the juvenile delinquency case has been closed.
The public’s general perception is that one must wait until he or she turns 18 before they can pursue an expungement of their juvenile record. That is not the case in Ohio.
The juvenile court “shall consider” sealing the records “anytime after six months” following the closure of the delinquency case. In most cases, this would be 6 months from the date that the court files an entry terminating probation and closing the case.
Once a Motion to Seal Record is filed, the court conducts an investigation to determine whether the person has been “rehabilitated to a satisfactory degree”, and the prosecuting attorney is given the opportunity to oppose the sealing of the record. A hearing would then be held. In making its determination, the court may consider the age of the person, the nature of the case, the cessation or continuation of delinquent or criminal behavior, the education and employment history of the person, or any other circumstance.
Of particular note is that the juvenile court is given wide latitude and discretion in determining when to seal a juvenile’s record. Unlike with adult expungements, the juvenile court is not limited to only certain types of offenses (i.e., nonviolent, lower level offenses). The juvenile court is also not limited to the number of offenses that a person may seek to seal.
Step 2: Expungement of the Record
To “expunge” a record means to “destroy, delete, and erase a record, as appropriate for the record’s physical or electronic form or characteristic, so that the record is permanently irretrievable.”
Thus, in simple terms, if “sealing” a record hides it from public access, “expunging” the sealed record destroys the hidden record. After delinquency records are ordered expunged, “the person who is the subject of the expunged records properly may, and the court shall, reply that no record exists with respect to the person upon any inquiry in the matter.”
The juvenile court is required to automatically expunge all sealed records 5 years after the court issues a sealing order or when the person turns 25, whichever date is earlier.
The juvenile court “may expunge” a sealed record “upon application” by the person. This application may include “any relevant documentation to support the application”. The court would then order an investigation and the prosecuting attorney would have the opportunity to oppose the expungement request. The court would hold a hearing and consider the same factors as it did in determining to seal the records.
Oftentimes, one may seek to seal and expunge juvenile delinquency records with one motion to expedite the process.
In many cases, it is extremely important that a thorough and convincing petition is prepared and filed with the court to ensure that all relevant information is considered. Please feel free to contact Jonathan Horwitz, our experienced juvenile law attorney, if you are interested in getting your juvenile record expunged.