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gains the approval of the court to access such records; and,
only accesses the records to provide exculpatory evidence to a defendant in a criminal case.
AB 2952 marks a change in California law. Prior to the bill, a person’s juvenile records were sealed upon successful completion of informal probation. And, a court could only authorize access to the records in very limited situations.
New Laws Under Assembly Bill 2952
California law requires a court to seal all records related to a minor’s successful completion of informal probation. AB 2952 now says that a prosecutor may access these records.
But, under AB 2952, a prosecutor can only gain access to them if the following are true:
A court approves of the matter; and,
The prosecutor only has access to the records to provide exculpatory evidence to a defendant in a criminal case.
“Exculpatory evidence” is evidence that is favorable to a defendant and clears or tends to clear his guilt.
Laws Prior to Assembly Bill 2952
AB 2952 significantly changed California’s existing law on access to sealed records following informal probation. Under the State’s old law, a person’s juvenile records were sealed upon successful completion of informal probation. And, a court could only provide access to them in very limited situations.
Examples of these situations include:
A court could grant access to a state or local agency for the limited purpose of complying with data collection or data reporting requirements; and,
A court could authorize a researcher or research organization to access information in sealed records for the purpose of conducting research on juvenile justice populations, practices, policies, and/or trends.
The reasoning for Assembly Bill 2952
Proponents of the new law support it because it allows access to juvenile records for a “Brady Disclosure.” Under California criminal law, a “Brady Disclosure” requires a prosecutor, in a criminal case, to give a defendant any information or evidence that is material to the defendant’s guilt, innocence, or punishment. Prior to AB 2952, prosecutors could not fully comply with the law. Now, if a prosecuting attorney needs access to a sealed file in order to comply with a Brady Disclosure obligation, he can do so.
It is also important to note that the main reason why courts sealed juvenile records in the first place was to help minors succeed in life. The sealing of records meant that young people could have better access to jobs, housing, and licensure agencies. Under the new law, these interests are still very well protected because the information from sealed records is only being granted to defendants in criminal matters.
Assembly Bill 2952 was introduced in February of 2018 by Mark Stone. The bill amends Sections 786 and 787 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.