The 3 Statutory Factors Related to Juvenile Expungement in Utah Are Subject to the Courts' Discretion

State, in interest of D.L.H.
Court of Appeals of Utah
May 22, 2014

Holding: The Court of Appeals of Utah held that the three statutory factors related to the expungement of juvenile court records are subject to the Juvenile court’s discretion and the Juvenile Court in this case properly acted within its discretion when denying the defendant’s request.

Why This Case is Important: The Juvenile Court Act allows a person adjudicated by a juvenile court to submit a request to the court to have their juvenile record expunged once the person reaches the age of 18 and one year has elapsed from the date of termination of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over the matter.

The Juvenile Act also sets out three factors that the court must consider when deciding to grant a request for expungement. The first factor is an examination of petitioner’s response to programs and treatment. The second factor is how the petitioner behaved subsequent to adjudication. The third and final factor is the nature and seriousness of the offense.

The Juvenile Court has full discretion when examining these factors. This includes giving one factor more weight than the others and comparing the evidence and how it applies or does not apply to each factor. If after a complete examination the court finds that the petitioner has not shown signs of rehabilitation to the satisfaction of the court, it may deny the request.

Facts of This Case: The defendant in this case was found guilty for multiple child abuse in 2009. The juvenile court placed the defendant on probation. The defendant performed well under probation and had his probation terminated early. In 2012, defendant was now an adult and requested the juvenile court to expunge his juvenile records. The juvenile court denied defendant’s petition, explaining that the defendant’s offense was too serious to allow such a request at the time.

Defendant appealed the order, arguing that the juvenile court misinterpreted the statutory requirements for granting expungement, that the court did not consider the important evidence that weighed in favor of granting his request, and that the court gave more weight to the third factor in the statute rather than giving all of them equal weight.

The Court of Appeals of Utah agreed with the juvenile courts ruling. The Court explained that the juvenile court had correctly applied the three factors involved in granting expungements in this case. The statute in this particular case lists three factors that the court must consider. First, the court must examine the petitioner’s response to the programs and treatment. Second, the court must look at the petitioner’s behavior subsequent to jurisdiction. Finally, the court must examine the nature and seriousness of the offense.

The Court disagreed that each of the three factors must be given equal weight. It explained that if each factor were given equal weight, the defendant would only need to complete two of the three factors in order to be granted an expungement, regardless of his failure to meet the last factor. The language of the statute gave the court the flexibility to weigh each factor, and this would give the court the ability to weigh one factor more heavily than the other. Therefore, the juvenile court did not misinterpret the statute by giving more weight to the third factor as opposed to the other ones.

Furthermore, the Court stated that the juvenile court did not overlook important evidence concerning defendant’s expungement. The juvenile court had full reports explaining defendant’s good behavior and compliance to probation. The court denied defendant’s request because it did not feel that defendant had demonstrated to the satisfaction of the court that defendant was fully rehabilitated. This falls back to the court having full discretion in weighing each factor. Here, the juvenile court found that the seriousness of the offense did not weight in favor of granting the defendant’s request at that time. However, this does not preclude defendant from applying for expungement at a later date, which most likely will be granted if defendant continues his good behavior.

The statute gives the juvenile court full discretion in considering the evidence and weighing it against the factors listed. The Court concluded that the juvenile court correctly applied the statute and did not abuse its discretion as defendant asserts.

Key Language: When applying to have a juvenile adjudication record expunged, the Juvenile Court has full discretion in weighing each factor that goes into deciding to grant an expungement or deny it. The court does not have to weigh each factor the same, but may weigh one factor more heavily than another. The expungement request will only be granted once a petitioner has proven to the satisfaction of the court that petitioner has rehabilitated.

Expert Advise: “In Utah, the Juvenile Court has full discretion in deciding to grant or deny a juvenile record expungement request. A person must demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that he or she is fully rehabilitated in order for the court to grant such request. The court may deny an expungement request if it feels that the person has not shown rehabilitation after considering the three factors listed in the Juvenile Court Act.” Attorney Mathew Higbee.

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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