The Potential Lifelong Ramifications of a Juvenile Criminal Record
While many people believe that juvenile records are either sealed or expunged, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice warned that this is often not the case. In fact, at its annual conference, experts urged juvenile justice workers to push for reforms that will help ensure that these people are not penalized throughout their lives. Many Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys have echoed these sentiments as the records are not automatically expunged and are often made publicly available, including via the internet.
A Juvenile Record Is Not Necessarily Confidential
There is a common misconception that juvenile records are automatically sealed and that they become expunged once the offender is an adult and enough time has passed. This is often not the case, and the specific laws can vary drastically from one state to another. It is not uncommon in states for the decision to be up to discretion of the court, and police and other agencies will often post this information via their online portals if the details are not made immediately confidential. Once that data is available via the internet, it is often impossible to scrub.
In cases involving sexual misconduct, there is also the matter of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. Depending on the offense, this federal law requires juveniles of age 14 and older to register as a sex offender, and this is a stigma that remains with a person forever. While the statute does not require such information about juveniles to be posted online, it often is regardless.
How Juvenile Records Are Handled in Pennsylvania
Generally, juvenile records are confidential in Pennsylvania. They are not sealed, but access is limited to certain government agencies without an order of a court. However, if the juvenile has committed a serious felony, has conspired to commit a serious felony or is a repeat offender, then Pennsylvania law requires the record to be made public. The public record includes name, age, address, alleged offenses, substantiated offense and case disposition. If this information is not later sealed or expunged, then it may show up on background checks conducted by agencies, the U.S. military and prospective employees if they request that information through the courts and approval is obtained.
Most agree that people who have become productive members of society should not be penalized as adults for offenses committed when they were children, but this is often what happens. Juvenile offenders often experience difficulties related to:
- Military enrollment
- Adoption and foster parenting
Research performed by Human Rights Watch and other organizations reveals that adults who have had their juvenile records sealed or expunged are better able to move on with their lives in terms of their success and psychological health. Those that do not are often stigmatized and experience significant psychological impacts. This is particularly true for cases involving sexual offenses. The HRW found that more than 50% of such offenders experience violence or threats of violence to them or their loved ones as an adult. It also found that nearly 85% of them experience severe psychological harm and that nearly 20% of them attempt suicide later in life.
The Common Application is an online form used by hundreds of universities and colleges in the U.S., and it has specific questions regarding juvenile adjudications. Many schools also perform background checks, and while a juvenile record will not necessarily prevent acceptance, there are a number of factors to consider. Answering these questions on the Common Application truthfully makes an extensive background check much more likely. If one were to lie and the details discovered, rejection is almost certain, and even if a student is accepted, the juvenile offense may affect eligibility for housing and financial aid because students without such histories are going to be prioritized.
Barriers to employment are often the biggest challenges that these individuals face. The police collect a great deal of information that employers can often easily access through online databases. Another issue is that employers may not be able to easily distinguish between a juvenile and adult record. They certainly can if they scrutinize the information but may not do that if considering a high volume of applicants. There are also employers who simply do not care because they view the person who commits a crime as a juvenile the same as a person who does so as an adult.
Another prevalent misconception is that the U.S. military will accept anyone, including those that have been convicted of offenses, but this is also not the case. The military branches are federal agencies that have their own rules and regulations, and those may differ from the state in which the offense was committed. All branches require what is known as moral fitness and may decide that a juvenile offender is not fit for enlistment even though they are now a law-abiding adult. Another factor to consider is that the U.S. government has full access to juvenile records even if they are sealed or expunged.
The Department of Transportation is a government agency that has access to juvenile records even when they are confidential. Depending on the state and the nature of the offense, this can lead to permits being revoked and licenses being suspended. It can also present problems down the line for the adult who has a driving-related juvenile record and wants to acquire a commercial driver’s license.
While a mortgage lender can run a criminal background check and deny you based on that information, it is not common. Lenders care much more about your ability to repay the loan. The Coalition for Juvenile Justice, however, warns that it is a problem when it comes to public housing and particularly in the case of sexual offenses. During the aforementioned CJJ conference, a juvenile justice worker examined a case she had handled in which a 23-year-old male with a girlfriend and newborn child had been denied public housing because he had touched a girl inappropriately as a 13 year old.
Adoption and Foster Parenting
Experts also noted that juvenile records can present problems when attempting to adopt or become a foster parent. While most states do not preclude those with juvenile records, social workers have to deal with a large volume of information and often favor applications without such blemishes. A juvenile record can also prevent private adoptions as well as through agencies that perform extensive background checks.
Expunging or Sealing a Record Costs Time and Money
Having a juvenile record sealed or expunged is usually possible. The court will generally agree when a person has moved on with their lives as an adult and shown that they are not a risk to commit further offences. That said, this is still a burden on the individual. It typically requires legal representation. There are legal and court costs incurred, and the process takes time.
Local Legal Assistance With Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Records
If you or a loved one has a juvenile record in Pennsylvania and would like to get it expunged, Bauer, Scanlon, & Wigginton L.L.C. may be able to help. Our law firm has a wealth of experience navigating the juvenile justice system and having juvenile records removed. To schedule a consultation with a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, call us at 610-590-5092 or contact us online.