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California Improves Juvenile Record Sealing Process

Many people believe that your juvenile record automatically disappears at age 18 and that, no matter your crimes, you may enter legal adulthood with a clean slate. This is not the case. While there are some protections in place for people with juvenile records (for example, a juvenile adjudication is not a “conviction,” and youth may answer as such on job and college applications), juvenile records may still be accessible to potential employers, landlords, school officials, and others.

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Having a juvenile record can create obstacles for someone looking for work or applying for citizenship, among other issues. Fortunately, some juvenile records can be “sealed,” or made inaccessible to the public (excluding some government agencies, e.g. the military.) But in California, sealing your juvenile records can be a confusing process – with unclear deadlines and legal jargon – that differs between each of the state’s 58 counties. Moreover, young people were expected to navigate this record sealing process themselves!

However, in September 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills that simplify the juvenile record sealing process and promote the best interests of youth across the state: Assembly Bill (AB) 666 and Senate Bill (SB) 504. These new laws allow youth who completed probation on or after January 1, 2016, to have their juvenile records automatically sealed by the court at no cost.

AB 666 and SB 504 significantly improve juvenile record sealing across the state by standardizing the process for young people. While conducting research for Seal It, CJCJ’s online resource to help young people seal their juvenile records, CJCJ found that only 18 out of 58 counties provided online record sealing application forms, and only 20 counties provide step-by-step descriptions of the process. For eligible youth, record sealing is an important step for reentry, but the process is not made nearly accessible enough. Though exactly how the automatic record sealing process will be implemented has not yet been made clear, what is known is the courts now bear the responsibility for enforcing sealed records, rather than an individual youth.

Specifically, AB 666 improved upon last year’s legislation, SB 1038, to create an automatic process for sealing juvenile records. Now, after youth complete probation, without having committed any new offenses involving “moral turpitude,” the court should automatically order that their arrest, probation and court records be sealed. The new law also prohibits unpaid fines from constituting a failure to satisfactorily complete probation. Youth must pay their fines, but may do so after sealing their juvenile records.

The second new law, SB 504, waives all court, county and city fees for anyone under age 26 seeking to seal a juvenile record. These fees can range up to $150, which can be a financial hardship for youth. According to Seal It, 27 counties charge between $100-$150 in sealing fees, nine charge between $60-$90, and four counties charge $25-$50. Kern County and Nevada County charge $170 and $185 in sealing fees, respectively.

The high costs of record sealing fees are particularly problematic for youth under age 18, who are most likely to experience poverty, especially when sealing their juvenile records may be a necessary prerequisite for employment. Employment is an integral step toward successful reentry  and also assists youth in paying their remaining restitution fees.

The intentions AB 666 and SB 504 reflect a focus on juvenile rehabilitation instead of punishment. By creating an automatic process for eligible youth to seal their juvenile records, California legislators and Governor Brown acknowledge that the juvenile justice system must support youth reentry through employment, education, and mitigating the collateral consequences of justice-involvement.   

Keywords: AB 666, collateral consequences, juvenile records, SB 504, Seal It, sealing

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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