Some of us, including me, did some pretty stupid things when we were kids. Since children can be prone to make mistakes as they mature, the overall purpose of the juvenile court system is to rehabilitate and treat kids, not punish them. There are a handful of children who become repeat offenders and end up in detention and later on in the adult criminal justice system. This is a sad but true part of any society. However, there are thousands of children who made that “one time mistake” and landed up being accused of a delinquent act (a crime if the person was an adult). If the child ends up admitting to the delinquent act, he or she is usually placed on probation with certain conditions to follow. In general, the child’s brush with the law will not be known to the general public. But, with ever increasing search technology, juvenile records may be easier to obtain in the future. There is one way to add a layer of protection to a person’s privacy if they had a negative experience in juvenile court. This is known as sealing the record. On January 1, 2014, an old law was repealed and replaced by OCGA § 15–11–701, which applies to all offenses that occur and juvenile proceedings that commence on or after that date. In general, the first part of the law addresses when an automatic sealing of a file would take place. This occurs when a case is dismissed, handled informally, successfully mediated, or any other way where there is not a formal adjudication (judgment).
In most cases, there have been some type of adjudication for committing a delinquent act. If the child wants to seek the sealing of a juvenile court record, he or she must apply for such and request a hearing before the juvenile court judge. The application cannot be filed until the child turns 17 years of age. After a hearing takes place, the juvenile court judge shall order the sealing of the files and records in the proceeding if the judge finds the following:
(1) Two years have elapsed since the final discharge of the person;
(2) Since the final discharge of the person, he or she has not been convicted of a felony or of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude or adjudicated for committing a delinquent act or as a child in need of services and no proceeding seeking conviction or adjudication is pending against the person; and
(3) The person has been rehabilitated. The last part about “being rehabilitated” can be established by witness testimony, positive work or school documentation, or other forms of evidence.
If the judge enters an order sealing the juvenile record, the proceeding shall be treated as if it had never occurred. All index references shall be deleted and the person, the court, the law enforcement officers, and the departments shall properly reply that no record exists pertaining to the person upon inquiry in any matter. The only way that sealed records can be accessed is by a court order or by criminal justice officials for judicial or criminal justice purposes. Some folks wouldn’t care what their juvenile record says about them. However, since there is a way to essentially “expunge” information about you that is may place you in a negative light, why not take the opportunity?