Indiscretions of youth that lead to juvenile delinquency charges can prove problematic as one moves into adulthood. Georgia law generally requires that all records of a juvenile case be automatically sealed when a case is dismissed or when a youth completes all terms of a case handled through informal adjustment (pretrial diversion type program). However, juvenile court and arrest records are not automatically sealed in cases where a youth has been adjudicated as delinquent by the court.
And such records can impinge upon a youth’s efforts to get into college or to land that coveted first job in his or her chosen field. While juvenile court records may not be easily accessible, arrest records, unless restricted, are of public record and can often be easily reviewed by anyone who surfs the internet and looks through the right database. For example, you can go to the Fulton County Jail’s record database–justice.fultoncountyga.gov–and type in a name and locate arrest records.
Fortunately, Georgia law allows juveniles who have been adjudicated as delinquent to petition the court to seal the records, and a judge will generally seal the file and records if certain requirements are met. The first and most important requirement that needs to be met is that two years must have passed since the date of final disposition of the case. Once that requirement is met, the court will consider the following factors in determining whether to seal the records:
–that the person has not been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude;
–that the person has not been found to be a delinquent or unruly child in a new juvenile court
–that there is no proceeding or pending charges against the person in either adult or juvenile
–that the person has been rehabilitated.
The motion to seal the record must show how the youth has met all of the above requirements, and the motion must be provided to relevant parties, such as the original prosecuting attorney, Department of Juvenile Justice, and officer and/or department within law enforcement who has custody of the youth’s files and records.
After the motion has been filed, the court will conduct a hearing to determine if the requirements have been met and whether the motion to seal the records should be granted. When the motion is granted, the public can no longer access or inspect the records. Similar to adult records that have been restricted, the records can still be accessed by law enforcement officials.
Record restriction is also available for youthful offender convictions that occurred before the individual turned 21. This category of record sealing deals with cases that were handled in adult, not juvenile, court, and only applies to certain misdemeanor charges.
To qualify, one must have successfully completed the terms of the sentence and in the five years before requesting restriction, cannot have been charged with any other offences beyond minor traffic violations. Certain misdemeanor convictions are not eligible for restriction, such as driving under the influence or reckless/aggressive driving, as well as a wide number of sexually related crimes.
The absolute fault-proof process in ensuring that your child has a clean, sealed record includes the following steps:
1) Obtain the court’s order directing the record to be sealed for your child’s own personal files. This order will very clearly lay out that your child’s record is being sealed. Typically, the court will either mail or e-mail a copy of this order to the parent, the attorney or both. I always make sure my clients have a copy of this extremely important order at the close of their child’s case.
2) If the child was actually fingerprinted and arrested, go to your local police department and request a copy of your child’s criminal background to ensure that there is nothing listed on it.
Having an arrest record can have devastating consequences for your child, even several years down the road if they are not restricted at the appropriate time. In summation, a young person in Georgia who has been charged with a minor offense or with juvenile delinquency can restrict these records from public view.
Kathryn Boortz has a passion for working with youth and their families. She is the founder of Boortz Law, a law firm that focuses on juvenile defense.