Sealing Juvenile Criminal Records in Georgia

Georgia Juvenile Record Restriction

What does it mean to have your records sealed?

Most people are aware that there are some benefits to having a case heard in a Georgia Juvenile Court as opposed to a State or Superior Court that deals primarily with adults.  Juvenile courts, at least in theory, are more focused on rehabilitation than on punishment and therefore their dispositions can be more lenient.  Proceedings are less formal, and judges have some knowledge of child development and understand that young people make mistakes.

But perhaps the most crucial difference is that juvenile records can be sealed.  There are some misconceptions regarding juvenile record expungement in Georgia, however.  Most people believe that Georgia juvenile records are automatically sealed or expunged at some point and that no further action is necessary in order to prevent charges from appearing on a criminal record.  This is incorrect. 

For one, once a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, records are never expunged or entirely erased.  The language in the statute, O.C.G.A. § 15-11-701, tracks this.  Sealing records merely means that the number of people who can access the documents is drastically limited, but the records never entirely go away.  Most potential employers running background checks would not be able to access these records, but law enforcement always has access to them, as do prosecutors. 

Unlike most employers, the military does have access to juvenile records.  The FBI actually conducts the background check for people enlisting in the military and can easily find out about juvenile records.  Applications for the U.S. armed services will frequently ask if a person has ever been adjudicated delinquent for a juvenile offense.  If your records have been sealed, it might be tempting to answer in the negative.  But regardless of what a recruiter might tell you, attempting to conceal juvenile records is a mistake.  Even if your juvenile records have been sealed, you must disclose juvenile delinquency history.  A juvenile record itself does not necessarily bar you from enlisting, but lying about a juvenile record does.  The military will find out, and you will most likely be discharged and barred from attempting to re-enlist in the future. 

An exception to this rule is if some kind of pre-trial diversion program or abeyance is completed.  In those cases, the charges are actually dismissed once a juvenile meets certain conditions.  Therefore, no adjudication results from such proceedings and no records would be present.  Nevertheless, you should pay close attention to the wording of the question.  If they ask about a juvenile arrest, you should answer honestly if you were arrested, even if your case did not result in an adjudication of delinquency.  If you are in doubt or have any questions about how to answer these questions, you should consult a Georgia Juvenile Record Restriction Lawyer prior to making any statements about your juvenile history.   

Sealing juvenile records also does not erase a person's records created by the Georgia Department of Driver Services.  Every person with a Georgia driver's license has a record through DDS.  If he or she gets a ticket and subsequently pays the ticket or is adjudicated delinquent based on the traffic offense, DDS assesses points which attach to that person's license.  The number of points assessed is determined by the severity of the offense under Georgia law.  Accruing a certain number of points will result in license suspension.  With juvenile offenses, even if the juvenile court ultimately seals the records, the points in DDS' system are not erased.  Because of this, a person may have his or her license suspended based at least partially on charges that were ultimately expunged by a Georgia Juvenile Court.

How does a person with a juvenile record get his/her records sealed?

In order to get juvenile records sealed, a person must apply for sealing through the same Georgia Juvenile Court that initially adjudicated the case.  The court must schedule a hearing, and the Clerk of Court must give reasonable notice of such hearing to:

  • The juvenile court prosecuting attorney,
  • The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice,
  • The authority granting the discharge if the final discharge was from an institution or parole, and
  • The law enforcement officers or department having custody of the files and records of the case.

Most of the time, the prosecutor attends this hearing and may ask a few questions.  However, the other agencies typically do not send representatives or otherwise object to record sealing.  During the hearing, the Juvenile Court judge will ask questions of the person seeking to have his or her records sealed.  In order to grant a sealing of the records, the judge must be convinced that:

  • Two years have elapsed since the final discharge of the person,
  • Since final discharge, the person has not been convicted of a felony or of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude or adjudicated for any delinquent act or CHINS offense, and no proceedings are pending against them, and
  • The person has been rehabilitated.

For purposes of determining when records can be sealed, “final discharge” refers to the date on which a person completes any court-ordered supervision (such as probation or incarceration in a juvenile detention facility), not to the adjudication or disposition date.  Thus, if a juvenile was ordered to one year of probation on January 1, 2018, he or she would not be eligible for a sealing of his or her records until January 1, 2021, provided all other conditions of sealing are met. 

It is important to note that juveniles whose cases are handled through an informal adjustment, abeyance, pre-trial diversion, or other procedure that does not result in an adjudication do not need to apply for record sealing.  Similarly, juveniles who win their cases at trial or whose Georgia Record Restriction Lawyers successfully negotiate the dismissal of charges do not need to apply for record sealing.  In all of these situations, the court automatically orders the sealing of the files and records in the case.  No waiting period is required.

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There are many reasons to hire a record sealing lawyer in Georgia.  For one, as discussed above, sealing of juvenile records is not perfect.  It doesn't protect a juvenile from all repercussions of a juvenile adjudication.  Secondly, record sealing for juveniles in Georgia takes a long time.  For these reasons, it is best to retain a Georgia Record Restriction Attorney who can make an effort to ensure that no records are ever created.  If you or your child have a juvenile record, you should know your options.  Contact us today

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