Contrary to popular belief, in Washington, juvenile court records do not automatically disappear when you turn 18. In fact, almost all of your juvenile records remain open for the public to view, unless you ask a court to “seal” them. You must meet certain requirements to be eligible to have your record vacated and sealed. Eligibility depends on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the juvenile offense, the amount of time that has passed since your most recent conviction, and the existence of any pending criminal matters. Clearing up your juvenile record can open the doors to opportunities you may not otherwise have such as employment, housing, obtaining certain insurance and bonds, commercial financing, professional licensing, or even travel to some countries. The Law Office of Erin Bradley McAleer devotes a substantial part of its practice helping people convicted of crimes in Washington restore their record and removing barriers a conviction can have on life’s opportunities.
No. Sealing does not happen automatically if you are eligible. Sealing your juvenile record requires going through the Juvenile Court’s process. In fact, the Washington State Patrol maintains juvenile criminal history along with any adult criminal history and is readily available to the public for a small fee on its website.
If you have been involved with the juvenile justice system, the court keeps a record of your case and other information related to the case. The juvenile court record has two components: the official juvenile court file and the social file. The official juvenile court file contains charges, motions, memoranda, briefs, findings of the court, and court orders. The social file contains the records and reports of probation counselors. The official juvenile court file is open for public inspection until sealed, but the other juvenile court records are confidential.
The official juvenile court file is physically kept in the court clerk’s office in the county where your juvenile court matter took place. A record of your juvenile case is also kept by law enforcement and other juvenile justice or care agencies that may have been involved in your case, like the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration where you may have been incarcerated. Ultimately, until sealed, anyone can easily obtain information about your juvenile record in Washington.
The law in general is full of exceptions. Here is what you should know: • If you were convicted of any felony, or any of the following domestic violence misdemeanors after July 1, 1993, (Assault 4 – DV, Coercion -DV, Stalking – DV, Reckless Endangerment – DV, Criminal Trespass 1- DV, or Violating a Protection Order or No-Contact Order) and it was committed by one family or household member against another family or household member the court was required to inform you orally and in writing that your right to possess and use firearms was revoked. In theory, the law states that the conviction shall be treated as if it never occurred. State v. Nelson held that because sealed juvenile convictions shall be treated as if they had never occurred, the defendant’s right to bear arms is no longer restricted. However, the court does state that seeking a certificate of restoration (adult firearm restoration) may be prudent. Although sealing alone should be sufficient, we often hear from clients who do not take the additional step to restore their firearms as an adult that they encounter problems purchasing a gun or obtaining a concealed weapon permit from their local Sheriff’s office. It’s a frustrating process for these individuals to say the least.
• When applying for professional licensing, the licensing board or agency can require that you disclose your prior convictions regardless of whether it was a juvenile conviction, vacated, or even sealed. Prior misdemeanor and even some felony convictions are not generally automatic bars to professional licensing; however, failing to make proper disclosures in the application process can be a bar in many cases. Often the fact that you have been conviction free, completed all terms of your sentence, and took the additional step to seal your conviction can make the difference in your application.
• The court, the FBI and the Washington State Patrol don’t control private third-party databases which may have a record of your conviction. In fact, some third-party databases will continue to report the conviction even after its been vacated.
• If you are not a citizen of the United States your vacated or sealed conviction may still operate as a conviction for purposes of determining your admissibility, or in removal from the country. We can review your case to determine if you may be eligible for other post-conviction relief. We have helped several client's reverse convictions on state and federal constitutional grounds after removal proceedings have been initiated which has ultimately prevented our clients from being deported.