In many states in US, a person is considered juvenile if he or she is a minor aging between 7 and 17 years. Anyone between this age who in the past was accused in the court of law and charged for committing any crime, even the very little crimes such as violating town or city laws has juvenile records. These juvenile records show the crime the person had committed and how the case was ruled. All the children aging 17 years and below who have committed crimes and charged in a court of law are taken as juveniles before the law unless the crime that minor has committed is very serious and he or she is treated just the way an adult will be treated in the adult courts. Though many people think that juvenile records are automatically expunged or sealed when the minor attain the age of adult, they are still kept either as sealed or not sealed depending with the owner. To seal a juvenile record is to remove them from the main file and put them in a different file which is secure and can only be accessed by restricted persons such as the police and court judges. Sealing of juvenile records can only happen threes years after the charged person finish his or her jail sentence. These files can be accessed and used by court judges when they are making other rulings even after the minor attain the age of adult (Thomas, 2006). In addition, sealed juvenile records can also be accessed by other groups such as probation departments and other agencies for social services such as rehabilitation centers (Kelsey, 2009). In some states, juvenile records may be destroyed and the person assumed to have no criminal records while in other states this practice is not legally allowed.
Argument for sealing juvenile records
The main question that many people debate is whether to seal juvenile records especially after attaining the age of maturity. Sealing juvenile records means that criminal records are removed from public accessibility and only limited persons can access them. This will be an advantage to the person who was charged with crimes when he or she was a minor, since those charges will not limit his or her accessibility to opportunities later in life. Sealing one’s juvenile records is almost equivalent to destroying or erasing them since they can only be retrieved if the person is caught in other serious crimes later in life. In order to verify the integrity of a person, many organizations such as employing companies or training collages requires the applicants to reveal their criminal records to know whether the candidate has ever been charged in the court of law with criminal charges. An applicant whose juvenile records are sealed can respond confidently that he or she does not have any criminal records since they cannot be easily accessed by the employer or the administrators of the training institution. The process of obtaining these records may be very long since the employer will be required to apply for the candidate’s juvenile records from the police or any other law enforcing agencies. Thus many employers or administrators would opt not to apply for these records since the process is long and takes a lot of time. This will save the candidate especially if he or she was charged with very minor offences like violating traffic laws which cannot tell much about the integrity of the candidate. In case the juvenile records of the candidate are not sealed, it will be very easy for collage administration or the employer to access them since they kept in the main file where everybody can access them. The applicant may be denied an employment or admission opportunity just because of very minor offences that he or she committed while under age 17.
Sealing juvenile records will help one to improve his or her earning capacity since opportunities will not be limited by your past records. One may also be in a position to acquire a good student loans and housing assistance when applied. Bad criminal records are used by the loan providers to as a basis for denying applicants enough funds which are given to other applicants who have no criminal records. Again, a person without criminal records is eligible for various professional certificates and licenses such as lawyers and surveys’ licenses that enable the holders to practice in their field without any limitations. Juvenile records may be used to deny people who are qualified and talented in a certain field a chance to serve the public in different offices because of minor crimes that were committed in the innocence of childhood. This may affect growth and development in many areas such as political office, corporate organizations, public service among others due to lack of competent leaders.
Psychology of young offenders
According to psychologists, many crimes that are committed at young age are not as result of personal sober decision but due to low reasoning capacity of the person (Amy et al., 2009). At the age of 17 years or less, the ability of the minor to reason is still immature and he or she may take actions without paying much attention to the consequences that will follow the action. This is why you will find minors breaking the established rules in school, in traffic, at home and in their interpersonal relationship with other people around them, without really thinking about the consequences that comes with disobeying established rules in various places. Again, the minds of the minors are shaped and developed at this age by the things that are happening around them. Many youths do not know what is good or bad and they will pick behaviors from the world around them. At this age the behaviors of many minors is shaped by what is happening in their home environment where they acquire behaviors of their parents. For instance, it is very easy for a minor to learn how to drink or smoke from his or her parent at this age. Children who are neglected by their parents at this age or even grow in a hostile environment at home may develop rebellious behaviors in others areas such as school and other public places. In addition, there is a lot of peer pressure and media influence that may affect minors in a negative way thus making them non-law abiding citizens. However, the way minors behave in this stage of their lives does not mean they will behave in the same manner when they grow. Most of them change their behaviors when they grow up as result of developed reasoning capacity where they can know the consequences of their decisions. It is therefore wrong to judge the integrity of a person using his or her childhood juvenile records though they may tell a few things about the person. In regards to this Michele (2011) advocates judges to be more ethical rather than legal when dealing with the cases of troubled youth.
Many people argue that sealing juvenile records of individuals may hide their past behaviors and therefore give them another opportunity to commit more crimes in other areas. However, this may not happen since applicants of senior positions in government and other areas are required to seek their past criminal records from the police. This will limit incompetent persons from being appointed or elected in the public offices. Secondly, it is wrong to argue that exposing one’s criminal records will help individuals to change their bad behaviors (Lisa, 2005). In fact, trying to expose the bad behaviors of juveniles will make them more rebellious to the established rules. This strategy can only work if the criminal has gone to the extreme and he or she is becoming a threat to the people around him or her.
It is advisable to seal juvenile records as way of encouraging youths to change their bad behaviors since exposing their records will only make them worse. Sealing juvenile records will also enable individuals to access many opportunities for their own growth as well as for the growth of the whole society. However, in case individual’s behaviors cannot be tolerated and efforts to habilitate them have failed, then exposing their juvenile records is justifiable.
Amy,C., Brian, L. & Theresa, M., (2009). Examining the Meaning Attached to Mental Illness and Mental Health Services Among Justice System-Involved Youth and Their Parents. Qual Health Res, 19(1087), 1-14.
Kelsey, M., (2009). The right to know: an approach to gun licenses and public access to government records. UCLA Law Review, l56, 1598-1601.
Lisa, E., (2005). Juvenile psychopathy: the hollow promise of prediction. Columbia law review, 105(158), 158-208.
Michele, B., (2011). A Unique Bench, A Common Code: Evaluating Judicial Ethics in Juvenile Court. The Georgetown journal of legal ethics, 24(97), 98-135.
Thomas, M., (2006). The First Amendment Right of Access to Docket Sheets. California Law Review, 94(5), 1537-1580.