Sealed juvenile records vs. expungement

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Pencil with eraser erasing parts of the word PAST, which is written in all capital letters in dark fontImagine this scenario—as a teenager, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up in trouble with the law related to possession of alcohol as a minor. You took the steps to have your records sealed and moved on with your life, assuming that no one would ever be privy to that information.

Your assumption is correct in one sense but not the other. While it is true that a standard background check for employment or college application won’t yield convictions that have been sealed, there are other situations where they can be “unsealed.”

Do not confuse records being sealed with being expunged—a whole other process. It’s important to understand the differences so you can pursue the course that helps you achieve your goals.

Sealing of juvenile records

In general, you can begin the process of having your records sealed once you are:

  • 18 years old
  • It has been five years since the case was closed, or
  • It has been five years since your last contact with probation and you are deemed rehabilitated by a judge.

You’ll need to contact your county to request the necessary forms. You must list each instance you want sealed. If all of your records are in the same county, it typically takes about 90 days to complete. If you have records in more than one county, it can take up to 180 days. In some instances, the request itself is sufficient for approval. In other cases, you may need to participate in a hearing. The courts will notify you if this is the case.

There are three instances that typically lead to denial of a request to seal juvenile records:

  • You are convicted of a serious offense (listed in Welfare and Institutions Code 707b) above the age of 14,
  • The record is for an adult conviction in a criminal case,
  • You are convicted as an adult for an offense of moral turpitude (these crimes involve sex or drugs, if they are violent, or in some way run afoul moral standards).

Earlier we mentioned that there are some times when a sealed record can be “unsealed” and the information is available to the requestor for a specific purpose. These include:

  • Insurance companies: Car insurance companies can view any records you had with the DMV
  • Federal institutions: The federal government can access your sealed records for military enlistment or security clearance positions
  • The court system: The courts may view your sealed records in the event that you are a witness in a defamation case, or to decide if you are qualified for extended foster care after age 18
  • Prosecution: Prosecutors can look into your records to see if you can be entered into a deferred entry of judgment program.

You can always request your own records to be unsealed at any time.


In California, expunged records are not removed in the sense that they just disappear. Instead, your records are updated to indicate that the charges were dismissed. This is an important differentiation—if your records have been expunged it is truthful to indicate “NO” on applications that ask if you have been CONVICTED of a crime.

According to California Penal Code 1203.4, you are eligible to apply for record expungement if you meet the following qualifications:

  • You were granted probation, completed all of its terms, and are no longer on probation
  • You have had no new arrests
  • Or, you have completed the terms of your probation and served at least half of the probationary term, and have had no new arrests

As with having records sealed, the decision is in the hands of the courts. Only with expungement, you’ll file a “Petition for Relief” form with the Superior Court of the county where you were convicted. There is a fee (which can be waived, if approved). It typically takes 8 -10 weeks after the court has received your application to come to a decision. If your conviction is a felony, a court hearing will be required as part of this process.

If you think you may be eligible for sealing of your juvenile records or expungement, you’ll want guidance from a seasoned attorney’s office. It may sound like simply filling out paperwork, but it’s in your best interest to talk through the options and processes to make sure your actions align with your end goals and that the process is done the right way.

We are here to help, day and night. Give us a call: 1-800-NoCuffs or visit our website for more information:

John Padwick
John Padwick