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Do the courts automatically seal juvenile criminal records?

On Behalf of | Jun 15, 2023 | Redemption Law

The record of someone’s criminal conviction may affect their life for many years to come. Employers, educational institutions and even landlords perform criminal background checks before deciding if they want to hire, rent to or enroll an individual applicant.

The official state records of someone’s prior criminal offenses can continue impacting their opportunities for decades, possibly even the rest of their life. It is only by expunging or sealing a record that someone can prevent landlords, employers and other authority figures from discovering a criminal record when performing a background check.

Some people only ever have legal challenges when they are young and then learn their lesson after their involvement with the juvenile justice system. Can those with youthful offenses on their records expect that the Washington courts will automatically seal or expunge their record when they turn 18?

Record sealing is not automatic

In some states, most of the information about juvenile criminal offenses will not be publicly available after someone turns 18 unless they committed specific violent offenses. However, Washington is not one of those states. While social records of the services offered to a juvenile offender are not publicly available, their court records can be available to many parties requesting them.

People actually have to petition the courts to seal or expunge the record of their arrest and conviction. Should someone follow the correct procedure and meet certain requirements, including having enough time since the conviction and avoiding other criminal infractions in the meantime, someone who has turned 18 could petition for the expungement of their record. Generally, only the official juvenile court file is accessible to begin with, and those who qualify can prevent almost everyone except for law enforcement authorities from accessing those records with a successful expungement.

Juvenile records can still limit opportunities

Although people sometimes assume that employers and other authority figures won’t pay much attention to a single youthful infraction, any criminal record could potentially be the deciding factor for an important life opportunity. Therefore, individuals who have previously gotten convicted of an offense or pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge will experience some personal limitations because of their criminal record.

Following the right steps to seal or expunge a juvenile record can help someone who has learned from an earlier mistake more effectively move on with their life. Seeking legal guidance is generally a good place to start.