Sealing Juvenile Records

Many people believe that when youth turn 18, all their juvenile court records are automatically sealed. Unfortunately, this is not true. In California, sealing juvenile records is a critically important, but also complicated area of juvenile law. Below is a general guide to assist the public in understanding the basics of sealing.

If you need guidance on a specific case, please contact the attorney who represented the youth, or if that attorney is not available, contact the local public defender’s office.

What is sealing?

Sealing happens when the juvenile court orders that a youth’s court case is deemed to not have occurred. In practical terms, this means that the police department, probation department, as well as any other departments involved in your child’s case are to treat the youth’s case as if it had never occurred. Eventually, these departments will destroy all the documentation they have about the case.

Why does sealing matter?

Sealing enables youth, when asked later (for example, on a job application or college application or during an interview) to honestly report that they have not had any juvenile justice matter in their past. The law specifically states that when a youth’s record is sealed, that youth can deny even being arrested for the sealed offense. (See Welf. & Inst. Code, § 781.)

Does sealing mean that no one will ever know about the youth’s record?

No. For instance, when certain juvenile cases are reported to the federal government, even if there has been sealing, the federal government does not have to assume the case never occurred. Moreover, other federal agencies such as Homeland Security and the Military may access even sealed records.   Also, the Department of Motor Vehicles and other agencies may have limited access to sealed records for specific reasons. Please contact an attorney for specific guidance.

What happens when your child is arrested

Are there crimes that are not eligible for sealing?

Effective January 1, 2018, every crime in juvenile court is eligible for sealing. However, it is up to the court to determine if the youth is ready for his or her record to be sealed. The court has the authority to deny sealing in certain circumstances.

How can a youth seal his or her record?

Sometimes sealing can occur automatically at the end of a case. In cases when the court denied sealing at the time that the case was completed, or the possibility of automatic sealing did not then exist, you have to file a request to seal the record.

According to the California Rules of Court, rule 5. 830, a request to seal records must be filed with the probation department in the county where the case was resolved. Here is a link to a form you can use to request sealing:

Before submitting this form to the probation department, if at all possible, you should review the form with the attorney who represented the youth, or if the attorney is not available, with the local public defender’s office to ensure that the form includes all the information that will be needed to obtain sealing relief.