Juvenile Justice
4:50 am
Wed April 2, 2014

Washington To Seal Juvenile Court Records

If you were charged with shoplifting or another minor criminal offense as a teenager, you shouldn’t have to pay for it for the rest of your life.

That’s the reasoning behind a bill being signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. The law will seal the court records for most juvenile offenders.

A lot of people assume that juvenile records are already sealed. But, unlike most states, Washington has  allowed near total access to such records. There has been a process in place to have records sealed. But it takes time and money to petition the court, and only 6 percent of juvenile records have ended up being sealed.

Until recently, Washington was even selling the records in bulk to commercial background check companies.  That practice ended earlier this year.

Kimberly Ambrose, who teaches at the University of Washington School of Law, says having juvenile records publicly available in Washington has meant that 12- or 13-year-olds charged with minor offenses have faced consequences well into adulthood.

"People, even in their 30s or 40s, sometimes would be applying for a job or even doing something as common as a background check in order to supervise your children’s field trips, and they would find juvenile criminal history showing up in those background checks," she said.

Under the new law, which takes effect July 1, juvenile records will be automatically sealed when people charged with minor offenses turn 18.  The change does not apply to juveniles charged with murder or sexual assault.

And, even in the case of minor offenses, all fines and restitution will have to be paid before the records are sealed.