If a youngster breaks the law, does that mistake have to follow them forever? Not necessarily, says author and former juvenile judge, Tom Jacobs, as he offers insights into options for saving that youngster’s future. We present, “Will a Juvenile Record Ruin My Child’s Life?”
In February, 2017, two fifth grade students at a California elementary school hacked into a classmate’s tablet. They posted graphic images and offensive language. The boys involved were both ten years old. There was an investigation by school officials.
Should this act affect their future college applications, employment opportunities, or military enlistment? No. Should it become a teachable moment? Of course.
A Serious Situation
This was the boys’ first offense, but one that could result in a criminal record. Hacking into someone’s computer and posting objectionable content may constitute a crime, depending on existing state laws. The act could be considered harassment, intimidation, cyberbullying, or threatening. Whatever category it fits into, the boys could be charged with a felony, misdemeanor or petty offense.
Diversion As An Option
The school district may have a policy of handling first-time offenses internally. The boys could face suspension or expulsion. Or the school could have a diversion program designed to educate students about the importance of being good “netizens” who practice netiquette every time they use social media. Considering their age, diversion is preferable to sending them to juvenile court for formal prosecution. The purpose of diversion is to “divert” the offense away from the criminal justice system. That way, a minor charge does not become a “record” that could follow the juvenile into adulthood.
Diversion is common across the country for first-time offenders charged with minor crimes. The majority of participants in a diversion program do not re-offend. Their brief brush with the law has a lasting impact.
Diversion generally involves community service, counseling, or a class about laws and one’s rights and responsibilities. Once the program is successfully completed, the case is closed and there’s no official record of the incident. There is no guarantee, but usually it would not appear in a background check done years or decades later.
Expunging a Juvenile’s Record
When a case is handled in juvenile court, and the court finds the juvenile guilty of an offense and imposes consequences, a record is created. All states have laws regarding expunging (destroying) a juvenile’s record. It’s a simple process and does not require hiring a lawyer. That’s a decision for the applicant and/or the parents to make. The application is a short form that, once filled out, is filed with the court the juvenile was in. A copy of the application is sent to the prosecutor’s office for review. The prosecutor notifies the court whether they agree with the expungment or oppose it. A judge ultimately decides to grant or deny the request.
If you are a teenager or pre-teen and you find yourself in court charged with a minor offense, it’s a serious event in your life. But, it’s not necessarily life-changing or the end of the world. Once you face the music, make amends, and comply with all court orders, the incident will become history and not affect your future. The U.S. Supreme Court commented in the famous Gault case in 1967 that “the policy of the juvenile law is to hide youthful errors from the full gaze of the public and bury them in the graveyard of the forgotten past.” When a juvenile court expunges a minor’s record, he or she can move out of the shadows of this cloud in their life.
NOTE: Many courts have Self-Help Centers where the public has access to legal booklets and forms to assist them navigate the system without an attorney. Such may also be available on the court’s website. In addition, some family and juvenile law attorneys offer free initial consultations. If you contact one for advice, ask about this. A brief consult may be all you need to file for an expungment of a juvenile’s record. ###
Judge Tom Jacobs spent 23 years as a juvenile judge in Arizona. From his heartfelt concern for young people, Judge Tom, with assistance from his daughter, Natalie Jacobs, founded and moderates AsktheJudge.info, a teen-law website for and about teenagers and the laws that affect them. It stands as a valuable site for parents and educators who want to stay current with issues that affect the safety and welfare of our young people. Judge Tom has written a number of books for lawyers and judges, as well as for teens and parents, including “What Are My Rights?” Teen Cyberbullying Investigated, and a recent book he co-authored with Natalie, Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice.