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New Laws For Sealing Juvenile Court Records and Preventing Disclosure on Background Checks

Posted by Andrea Robertson on Apr 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

Effective June 12, 2014, a new law will go into effect in Washington State affecting how courts seal juvenile records. (Laws of 2014 ch. 175)  The new state policy on juvenile records states;

“The legislature declares it is the policy of the state of Washington that the interest in juvenile rehabilitation and reintegration constitutes compelling circumstances that outweigh the public interest in continued availability of juvenile court records. The legislature intends that juvenile court proceedings be openly administered but, except in limited circumstances, the records of these proceedings be closed when the juvenile has reached the age of eighteen and completed the terms of disposition.”

To implement this policy, juvenile courts will now be directed to schedule a date to seal the court records at the time the juvenile is convicted of a crime.  At this future date, the court will automatically seal the court records unless the court receives notice of a compelling reason not to. If an objection is raised, the juvenile will be entitled to a hearing.

To have records sealed under this new law, the juvenile must reach the age of 18 and show proof of having completed all conditions of sentence. This law will not apply to the following offenses:

(1)  A most serious offense (i.e. class A felonies)

(2)  All sex offenses

(3)  Certain drug related offenses.

In the event a juvenile is convicted of one of these types of crimes, he or she can still seal court records. The juvenile will have to petition the court to seal records by showing eligibility under statute.

This law does not apply retroactively; meaning for all juvenile offenses resolved prior to June 12, 2014, the juvenile will have to petition the court him or herself to seal records. The rules for sealing records have not changed. The juvenile must prove:

(1)  At least 5 years have passed since completing conditions of sentence on all class A felonies, and at least 2 years have passed for class B and C felonies and all misdemeanors,  and during this time has not been convicted of any subsequent crimes;

(2)  No criminal charges are pending;

(3)  There is no longer any requirement to register as a sex offender;

(4)  The juvenile was not convicted of certain sex crimes; and

(5)  Full restitution has been paid.

A common misperception about juvenile court records is the belief they are sealed or destroyed when the juvenile offender turns 18 or 21. This has never been true. If a person is convicted of a crime in juvenile court, the records for the case are public records. This new law will help turn this misperception into reality. In the near future most juvenile conviction records will be sealed automatically. But this law does not help those who have already been convicted, and will not help those convicted of serious offenses. If you have a juvenile conviction, records for the case will remain publicly accessible until you go to court and ask the judge to seal the records.

In 2011, a law was passed to help persons keep juvenile records from showing up on employment background checks. (Laws of 2011 ch. 333) This law made a subtle but significant change to the Washington Fair Credit Reporting Act.  But the law is far from perfect and may still require those with a juvenile conviction to consider sealing court records.

Background checks are common practice for most employers.  Employers typically hire a company to perform the background check – called Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRA's). These companies purchase public records about all of us and then sell it to whoever wants to pay for it. In Washington State, CRA's are regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This law states what a CRA can and cannot disclose about us. Below I have highlighted the 2011 change to this law:

(1) Except as authorized under subsection (2) of this section, no consumer reporting agency may make a consumer report containing any of the following items of information:

(a) Bankruptcies that, from date of adjudication of the most recent bankruptcy, antedate the report by more than ten years;

(b) Suits and judgments that, from date of entry, antedate the report by more than seven years or until the governing statute of limitations has expired, whichever is the longer period;

(c) Paid tax liens that, from date of payment, antedate the report by more than seven years;

(d) Accounts placed for collection or charged to profit and loss that antedate the report by more than seven years;

(e) Records of arrest, indictment, or conviction of an adult for a crime that, from date of disposition, release, or parole, antedate the report by more than seven years;

(f) Juvenile records, as defined in RCW 13.50.010(1)(c), when the subject of the records is twenty-one years of age or older at the time of the report; and   (g) Any other adverse item of information that antedates the report by more than seven years.

(2) Subsection (1)(a) through (e) and (g) of this section is not applicable in the case of a consumer report to be used in connection with:

(a) A credit transaction involving, or that may reasonably be expected to involve, a principal amount of fifty thousand dollars or more;

(b) The underwriting of life insurance involving, or that may reasonably be expected to involve, a face amount of fifty thousand dollars or more; or

(c) The employment of an individual at an annual salary that equals, or that may reasonably be expected to equal, twenty thousand dollars or more.

The impact of this law is clear. CRA's may no longer disclose any information about a juvenile case after the juvenile turns 21. There are no exceptions.

For many people, this law is welcome relief. CRA's typically obtain information about juvenile convictions by accessing court records. The intent of this law is to protect persons, particularly those in their early twenties and just entering the work force, by preventing juvenile records from showing on background checks.

But this law is far from perfect. First, it fails to state how CRA's will know when a juvenile has turned 21. The point of the law is to prevent disclosure of a juvenile conviction. If the CRA fails to keep track of a person's date of birth it may erroneously disclose records. It is impossible to un-ring a bell once it is rung. Here, there is no protection for persons if the CRA mistakenly releases information.

Second, this new only prevents disclosure of a juvenile record from the CRA. But the court records at the court house are still public records. Further, the Washington State Patrol still maintains record of all convictions, and this information can be disclosed by simply asking the State Patrol for a copy of a person's criminal history. Therefore, any investigation by an employer that goes beyond hiring a CRA to scrutinize and employee's past is likely to reveal what the CRA may not.

The Legislature is making significant progress in passing new laws to help juveniles clear conviction records. It will take time to see how effective these new laws will be.

If you have any questions about the status of your juvenile records, please call Robertson Law and we can help you take the necessary steps to clear your past and protect your future.

About the Author

Andrea Robertson

Andy is a passionate, creative and effective criminal defense lawyer who is willing to fight on your behalf. She has honed her skills since 1998, and has developed a proven track record of creative, vigorous, and effective advocacy for clients throughout the State of Washington. Her practice includes all criminal charges. This includes felonies, misdemeanors, and driving-related charges such as DUI or vehicular assault/homicide.

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