If an old conviction from adult criminal court following you around for years seems unfair, imagine if your conviction happened when you were 14 or 15. A mistake you made when you were a confused or immature teenager should not hold you back from getting an education, a job or a decent place to live for the rest of your life.
But in modern times, this can easily happen. Records from Washington State juvenile courts often end up on the internet with the person’s name included. All it takes is a quick online search to find someone’s juvenile record. Once your record pops up, the person might deny you a loan or turn you down for a job.
Supreme Court makes two rule changes
The Washington Supreme Court’s Minority & Justice Commission recently reacted to this problem by issuing two recommendations to amend state court rules. One is to prohibit publishing juvenile criminal records on the internet. Some districts already practice this, but others do not. The rule change will make the practice consistent across Washington. The other will allow courts to identify the defendant by their initials and date of birth rather than their full name.
Both of these rule changes aim to protect people’s privacy, at least from the general public. They do not affect access to juvenile records for authorities and others who work in the courts, like defense attorneys. But as an opinion piece points out, sealing or expunging a juvenile record may not matter much if it’s already on the internet. Once it’s online, it’s out there and there is likely nothing a judge can do to remove it.
Action is necessary to expunge a record
Hopefully, these changes will prevent this unjust outcome from happening again in the future. But they will not solve the problem of unsealed juvenile records. Getting an expungement or record sealing is generally up to you to make happen.