Sealing a criminal record is commonly referred to as "expungement." Expungement is the legal process by which criminal records are treated as though they no longer exist. The limits of and options for expungement differ from state to state. However, all states allow some form of criminal record sealing for most juvenile offenses. Moreover, some states, like California, offer expungements for misdemeanors and certain felonies, so long as the individual meets certain qualifications.

Are Juvenile Records Automatically Expunged?

Depending on the state, a juvenile criminal record may be automatically expunged. However, even if this is the case, the juvenile records will only be expunged if the individual remains clear of criminal trouble for a certain period after reaching adulthood.

The majority of states will not have an automatic process, and require the former juvenile offender to bring a motion to have their criminal record sealed or expunged. 

Who Qualifies for Expungement?

Whether an individual qualifies to seal their record depends on the laws of the state. As mentioned above, in some states - and for some offenses - the court may simply expunge the record on their own. However, in many more states, the individual would need to meet a variety of qualifications, such as:

  • A period of time has passed since completing the terms of the plea or conviction
  • Whether the offender received probation, paroled, or served time the entire sentence in prison
  • Whether the offense was violent or nonviolent

Can an Expunged Juvenile Record Be Used in Proceeding against an Adult?

The word "expungement" is a bit of a misnomer in criminal law. In the real world, the term means to purge or remove entirely. In the world of criminal law, it means remove from the eyes of the public, but not for law enforcement purposes. Expunging a criminal record does not necessarily mean that the records disappear from the eyes of the police, the prosecutor, or the court. Thus, it is possible for your juvenile record to be brought into a proceeding later in the person's life.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Expunge or Seal a Criminal Record?

If a record is automatically expunged, you probably do not need to talk to an attorney unless you are facing prosecution and fear the record may come into the picture again. For the majority of individuals, record sealing will not be an automatic process. You should talk to criminal lawyer who specializes in expungement in your state to find out exactly how juvenile records are expunged. A lawyer can ensure that all the necessary steps are taken to expunge your record correctly.