What You Need to Know About Having Juvenile Records Sealed

Written by Alison Cohen January 29, 2021; reviewed by Mathew Lanthier November 22, 2023.

California law allows you to have your juvenile records sealed in most cases. Once your juvenile records are sealed, the juvenile proceedings are legally deemed never to have occurred. The sealing order will include a date for expungement (destruction) of the records. 

This article will answer questions about the process and effect of sealing juvenile records in California. Learn about sealing adult records here.

What happens when juvenile records are ordered sealed?

Which juvenile records get sealed?

Records ordered sealed include all court records as well as records of the arresting law enforcement agency, the District Attorney, the Probation Department, and the California Department of Justice.  The court may also seal records held by other public agencies such as public schools and the DMV.   

What happens to the records?

Each agency is required to seal all documents related to the juvenile case in an envelope that cannot be opened without further court order.  They must send verification back to the court that their records have been sealed. 

The sealing order usually includes a date in the future when the court records will be destroyed (expunged).  The court will choose a date for expungement between the minor’s 21st and 38th birthday, depending on the circumstances of the individual case. If the minor committed a serious felony when they were 14 years of age or older, the court records will not be destroyed.

How long will a juvenile crime stay on my record?

Generally, a juvenile crime will stay on your record until successful completion of probation, with exceptions for serious crimes which cannot be sealed until the age of 18 (or 21 if you were committed to the Department of Youth and Community Restoration).

The consequences of juvenile convictions are designed to be short-lived. In many cases, if you comply with the terms of probation and demonstrate rehabilitation, then you are entitled by law to have your juvenile charges dismissed, sealed, and expunged (destroyed). Once records are sealed, the proceedings are legally deemed never to have occurred.

How do you get a juvenile record sealed in California?

In most cases, if the judge terminates your juvenile probation successfully, then she will automatically dismiss the charges and order your records sealed at the time she terminates your probation. The sealing order will include a deadline for destruction, or expungement, of the juvenile records. 

What to do if your records were not sealed automatically

Automatic dismissal and sealing took effect in 2015, so you may have an older juvenile record that has not been sealed. If you have a pre- 2015 juvenile record or if you failed to complete probation successfully but can now demonstrate rehabilitation, you can apply to have your juvenile records sealed any time after you turn 18 years old.

How do I demonstrate rehabilitation?

Demonstrating rehabilitation to the court generally means that you are not currently on probation and you have not been convicted of any felony or of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude (crimes that reveal dishonesty or bad character like assault, battery, or burglary) since probation terminated.
How do I get my records sealed?

You can apply to have your juvenile records sealed through the probation department in the county where your probation was terminated. In Placer County, dial (530) 889-7900. There is no cost for the juvenile sealing process. In the alternative, you can hire a lawyer to file a motion to seal. 

What happens after I apply to seal my juvenile records?

If the District Attorney agrees that the records should be sealed, the judge can order sealing without having a court appearance. If the District Attorney objects to the motion to seal, you will be notified of a court hearing on the issue. At the hearing, the judge will hear from the District Attorney, Probation, and you or your lawyer. If the judge finds that you have been rehabilitated, she will order the records sealed. If the judge declines to seal your records, you can re-apply later.

How do I know if my juvenile records are sealed?

Contact the juvenile court clerk’s office in the county where probation was terminated. They will tell you if your file has been sealed. In Placer County, call (530) 745-2100.

Can a juvenile strike be sealed?

A juvenile strike can be sealed from public access, but it still counts as a strike if you commit a felony in the future.

If you commit a felony after your strike is sealed, the law allows the District Attorney, the court, and the Probation Department to access the sealed strike for the purpose of initiating criminal charges for the subsequent felony, to determine whether you should be transferred to adult court, to determine the appropriate consequences of the subsequent felony, and to prove the existence of the prior strike to enhance the sentence on the subsequent felony. 

The only way to avoid future strike consequences is to convince the juvenile court judge to either dismiss the strike or to reduce it to a misdemeanor before sealing it. Once a strike is dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor, it no longer counts as a strike.

Can my record be sealed if I was tried in adult court?

No. If you committed a crime as a child and your case was transferred to adult court, you cannot seal the record through juvenile court proceedings. You may be eligible to seal the records through the adult court process. Read more about children being tried as adults.

Can a juvenile record be used against you?

Generally, the answer to this is “no.”  Juvenile delinquency proceedings are not criminal in nature. If you are found guilty of committing a crime as a child, you will have a juvenile record, but you will not have a criminal record. Juvenile records are confidential and, for the most part, can only be accessed by:

• You and your parents
• Juvenile court staff
• The District Attorney
• Probation
• Your attorney

Some exceptions to this are as follows:

• Some juvenile offenses may create future consequences under the Three Strikes law.

• If you are called to testify as a witness in court, some juvenile offenses can be used to raise questions about your honesty. 

• Select charges in juvenile court may be disclosed to the school you attend, or to the DMV. Those agencies can use that information for their own purposes but are mandated not to disburse the information.

Can employers see juvenile records?

No, employers cannot see juvenile records. The California Labor Code prohibits most employers from asking about juvenile arrests, detention, processing, diversion, supervision, adjudication, or court disposition. There is an exception for criminal justice agencies, including the Department of Justice.

Can police see sealed juvenile records?

No, police cannot see sealed juvenile records. When juvenile records are sealed, the police department must seal all related documents in their possession in an envelope that cannot be opened without further court order.

In summary

Juvenile records are confidential, even before they are sealed. A guilty finding in juvenile court is not a criminal conviction and you are not obligated to disclose it to anyone. That being said, it is always a good idea to have your juvenile records sealed. Unsealed records can be accessed by the agencies who hold them (police, District Attorney, Probation) without restriction. Sealed records cannot be accessed by police without further court order and can only be used by prosecutors, probation, and the court in very limited circumstances. 

Contact the Cohen Defense Group to speak with a juvenile lawyer about the specifics your case. We are here to help.

About Matthew Lanthier

Matthew Lanthier HeadshotMatthew Lanthier has been a criminal defense attorney with the Cohen Defense Group since 2022. After graduating from the UC Davis School of Law, Matthew has represented clients in adult and juvenile court, handling cases ranging from minor misdemeanors to more serious felonies. In his time with the firm, Matthew has successfully litigated complex legal issues while prioritizing his relationship with his clients and their families.