Many adults find themselves needing to seal juvenile criminal records in Washington State. Contrary to popular belief, a juvenile record for adjudications is not always automatically sealed.
This article will explain a new law that addresses sealing of juvenile records, will discuss when records can be automatically sealed and will describe scenarios under which people with marks on their juvenile records must still petition the Court for relief.
Prior to March 2014, all Washington juvenile records were considered public and subject to release unless the subject of the record went through a very complicated process to petition the court and request sealing. However, in March, the State Legislature passed HB 1651, which made some changes to allow almost automatic sealing of juvenile records of conviction as long as they do not fall in certain categories, are completed, and no objections to sealing are filed.
The law amends R.C.W. 13.50, adding a new section, section (4). Section (4) provides that upon a juvenile's disposition, an administrative hearing is automatically scheduled at which a Judge will review the record and seal it unless there are objections or unless the juvenile failed to complete the terms of the disposition, including paying off restitution.
If someone contests sealing of the record, the juvenile and his or her attorney will be notified by the court at least 18 days before. In those cases, the juvenile will have to participate in a contested hearing for sealing.
There are also a number of offenses that are not covered by the automatic sealing provisions of the new section:
Individuals in those categories are able to seek sealing, but only by filing a petition to do so and having a hearing, as the new law does not affect them.
It is important to keep in mind the law is not retroactive. In other words, people who already had a juvenile adjudication prior to June 12, 2014 (the date when the new changes went into effect) will still need to file a formal petition to seal their record with the court. The law applies going forward from that date to all juvenile adjudications occurring after, but not prior to it.
For people whose cases were resolved prior to June 12, 2014, the juvenile will have to be able to demonstrate to the court the following:
People commonly believe that juvenile records are automatically sealed when they reach adulthood, but that is untrue for those who were already convicted and for those whose convictions were for serious offenses. The records for people in those categories are considered a matter of public record until and unless the people petition the court and go through the formal petition process and are able to demonstrate they are eligible to do so as described above.
Another law, passed in 2011, was designed to prevent juvenile records from showing up on employer background checks after the juvenile reached age 21. The law amended Washington's fair credit reporting statutes. Under the law, credit-reporting agencies are forbidden, without exception, from disclosing juvenile records once the subject reaches twenty-one.
It is still important for many people to seek formal sealing, as there several issues exist, including:
As the sealing process is quite complicated, for those whose convictions are not covered and those whose convictions predate the law's effective date, it is best to request an attorney's help. We offer a Washington juvenile record sealing service as well as a free online record sealing eligibility test which will let you determine if your record is eligible to be sealed. For intrepid people, a packet is available with instructions and forms here.
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