Some Utah court cases involving youth offenders have recently been the focus of media attention. Such attention gives increased importance to raising the public's understanding of how the juvenile court process works.
Of particular public interest is the question of what happens to a youth offender's juvenile court record when the youth becomes an adult. The answer is complex and thus requires some explanation:
Offenses committed by youth offenders are usually handled in juvenile court. Typically, juvenile court jurisdiction does not extend past the age of 21.
However, even when juvenile court jurisdiction ends and the youth becomes an adult, the youth's juvenile court record does not simply disappear. Youth offenders who wish to have their juvenile court records removed must follow a complicated and exacting process.
Under the Juvenile Court Act, however, not all offenses can be expunged. For example, a juvenile court record with an adjudication of aggravated murder or murder may not be expunged.
To qualify for expungement for other offenses, a youth offender must meet certain criteria. Generally, the offender is qualified to petition for expungement only if he or she is 18 years of age and at least one year has passed from the date the juvenile court terminated jurisdiction; or, if the youth was committed to a secure youth corrections facility, from the date of the youth's release from the custody of the Division of Juvenile Justice Services.
Under the law, these requirements may be waived by the court, but they rarely are.
A person petitioning for expungement of a juvenile court record must obtain a criminal history report from the Bureau of Criminal Identification and include the report with the petition.
Additionally, the person must include in the petition agencies known or alleged to have documents related to the offense for which the person seeks expungement.
The person is also required to send a copy of the petition to the county or district attorney, and a victim can request notice of such a petition.
A person may meet all of the above criteria and yet still not qualify for expungement. The petitioner must go before the court to demonstrate that expungement of his or her juvenile court record is appropriate.
At the hearing, the county or district attorney, a victim, and any other person with information about the petitioner may testify.
Before granting a petition for expungement, the court must determine whether the petitioner has been rehabilitated to the court's satisfaction. The court takes into account the petitioner's response to programs and treatment, behavior after adjudication, and the nature and seriousness of the conduct.
The court may not grant the petition, if after the juvenile court terminates its jurisdiction or the person has been released from Juvenile Justice Services, the petitioner has been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, or there is a felony or misdemeanor proceeding pending or being instituted against the person, or a judgment for restitution on the offense for which the expungement is sought remains unresolved.
If the court grants an expungement, the proceedings in the youth offender's case are considered never to have happened.
Nevertheless, the process is complicated, and a youth offender may not qualify for expungement, or a court may deny the petition.
In either case, youth offenders' juvenile court records may follow them around long after they become adults, particularly when the records involve serious offenses.
Dan Becker is the Utah state court administrator.