The National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) has recommended that the law enforcement records, the court records, and all related information associated with youths under the age of 18 who encounter the legal justice system be kept private and away from all types of public disclosure. Their recommendation applies to the records, wherever they are kept, of youths in contact with the juvenile criminal system.
Courts have long recognized that a less punitive and more therapeutic approach of keeping juveniles’ records confidential is essential to the goal of rehabilitation. Indeed, this is one of the most, if not the most, important distinction between juvenile and adult legal punishment, the latter of which tends to focus on vengeance, punishment, and removing individuals from society.
However, in its current state, protection of the privacy of juvenile criminal records is far from a given, and the rules vary greatly from state to state. Most states allow limited juvenile records to be publicly accessible, although accessibility commonly depends on the age of the juvenile, the type of offense, and/or the number of offenses.
While all states allow juvenile criminal information to be shared and exchanged between various authorized individuals and agencies, such as court personnel, law enforcement, and the parties, the more protective states do not extend availability beyond these groups. If you are the parent of a juvenile defendant in Florida, it’s important that you contact a Bradenton juvenile lawyer as soon as possible.
The Juvenile Criminal Process
Every time a juvenile is arrested, various paperwork and/or electronic records are generated, including charging documents, which contains one or more criminal charges or counts, police reports, arrest records, witness statements, victim statements, fingerprints, and even DNA samples.
Juvenile records often contain personal and sensitive information, including information about the juvenile’s family, social history, behavioral health issues, educational history, and prior
legal issues. This information helps courts develop individualized plans for the child’s supervision and rehabilitation, but when the information contained in these records is available outside of the juvenile court process, it can stigmatize the youth and erect social barriers within the community.
According to a National Review article, a growing number of states no longer limit access to records or prohibit the use of juvenile adjudications in subsequent proceedings. While many states utilize sealing or expungement laws that limit the exposure of juvenile records, these tend to be ineffective if they provide access to juvenile records beyond the time of juvenile court involvement, carve out exceptions, or include burdensome requirements that hinder the ability of juveniles to take advantage of these protections.
Exceptions to Juvenile Records Confidentiality
Even states that provide some confidentiality for juvenile criminal records, there are typically numerous exceptions, including those for:
- Parents and Legal Guardians
- School Officials
- Law Enforcement Agencies
- Federal, State, and City Attorneys
- Research Organizations, and
- Child Protective Agencies, among others.
Juvenile Records in Florida
According to a 2017 report on Florida by the State of America’s Children, a total of 131 children were in adult jails or prisons in Florida in 2015.
The 2017 Florida Policy Institute Report found that 63 percent of youth in prison are incarcerated for drug use, disorderly conduct, probation violations, property crimes, and status offenses, such as running away or skipping school.
In Florida, the law allows juvenile arrest and conviction records to be released and placed online. The records remain online and in the databases of private companies that sell the information, even if the file has been legally erased, or the child is found innocent. This follows juveniles well into adulthood.
The Harm to Juveniles
The primary purpose of juvenile punishment is to rehabilitate the child. However, when the child’s juvenile criminal record follows them into adulthood, they suffer various disadvantages, including:
- Lack of opportunities for jobs.
- Lack of opportunities for education.
- Lack of opportunities for housing.
- Ongoing stigmas.
- Ongoing damage to reputation.
- Personal feelings of inadequacies and failure.
Reasons for Confidentiality in Juvenile Criminal Cases
There are compelling reasons for protecting juvenile court records. These include:
- Confidentiality Helps Juvenile Criminal Offenders Later in Life. Most judges understand that juveniles are not really capable of making rational and logical decisions. By understanding their offenses will be kept confidential, juveniles are more likely to admit guilt and begin their rehabilitation.
- Publicly Disclosing Juvenile Records Has a Deterrent Effect in Family Matters. Most family court proceedings involve delicate and personal family matters. Confidential hearings serve to encourage children and family members to report and testify to instances of abuse, sexual molestation and offer other types of damaging testimony.
- Family Court Matters are Extremely Sensitive and Personal. In a related manner, criminal juvenile proceedings and family court proceedings usually concern personal and sensitive matters and involve custody disputes, child support disputes, neglect, and social worker testimony. Keeping these matters confidential prevents the public, who really have no business in such matters, except in certain compelling circumstances, from digging through the records to expose family secrets and damage the reputations of all parties involved.
- Confidentiality Provides Juvenile Offenders With Integrity and Reputation. By denying the public access to the details of the crime, families can avoid the stigma and embarrassment of what are often simple common mistakes or understandable errors in judgment.
- Self-Esteem. Many juveniles already struggle with self-esteem issues, especially those from lower socio-economic classes. The last thing these juveniles need is further attacks on their views of their self-worth.
Juveniles Tried as Adults
A final important factor in the confidentiality of juvenile criminal records is the increasing trend of trying juveniles as adults for certain types of crimes and other factors. According to an article in nwfDailyNews.com, Florida holds the highest rate of juveniles in adult prisons. This means that for an alarmingly high number of juvenile defendants in Florida, even the limited confidentiality afforded to juveniles is nor available to them.
Let a Bradenton Juvenile Lawyer at the Fowler Law Group Help You Protect Your Minor Child
If one of your minor children has been arrested, providing a criminal defense is not the only issue you’re faced with: you also need to be concerned about protecting your child’s privacy. Let a Bradenton juvenile lawyer at The Fowler Law Group help guide you through this difficult time and protect your child’s rights. If you need our help please contact us online.