If you have a California juvenile criminal record, you should strongly consider applying to have it sealed under Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC.
You may be eligible to have your juvenile records sealed if all of the following are true:
- You are 18 or older, OR five years have passed since the jurisdiction of the juvenile court terminated;
- You have not been convicted of a California felony or a California misdemeanor involving moral turpitude as an adult; and
- You were not convicted in juvenile court of one of a select list of particularly serious offenses (such as murder, torture or robbery) committed after you turned 14.1
Contrary to common misperception, juvenile records are not automatically sealed once you turn 18 unless you obtain a judicial order to seal and destroy them under WIC 781.
Sealing your juvenile criminal record will prevent prospective employers, state licensing agencies, lenders, landlords, and school officials from discriminating against you because of mistakes you made when you were young.
Below, our California juvenile crime defense lawyers answer the following frequently asked questions about sealing and destroying juvenile records under WIC 781:
- 1. What Does it Mean to "Seal" Your Juvenile Record?
- 1.1. Can my juvenile records be reopened after they are sealed?
- 1.2. Will my California juvenile record be destroyed after it is sealed?
- 2. What Are the Benefits of Sealing California Juvenile Records under Welfare and Institutions Code 781?
- 3. Am I Eligible to Have My California Juvenile Records Sealed?
- 4. What is the Process for Sealing Juvenile Records under WIC 781?
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
When the court grants your petition to "seal" these records under Welfare and Institutions Code 781, it closes your file so that the documents in it essentially cease to exist. They are no longer public records.
The whole point of the process is to alleviate further stigmatization of a former juvenile offender. So, after you seal your juvenile records, you can answer "no" if you are ever asked:
- If you were ever arrested,
- If you have a criminal record, or even
- If you have a sealed record.2
Your California juvenile record includes every report and court record having to do with any criminal activity you were involved in as a minor (that is, while you were under 18). This includes:
- arrest reports,
- judge's findings and rulings,
- exhibits, and
- probation reports.
Technically, juvenile court proceedings aren't even considered "criminal" in nature. This means that if you were found guilty and declared a "ward of the juvenile court," you don't actually have a criminal conviction on your record. So even if your juvenile records aren't sealed, you could still legally say you've never been convicted of a "crime."3
But as Riverside criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi4 explains,
"Technically, under the law you don't need to report juvenile convictions if you are asked about your criminal record. But following the letter of the law here could land you in trouble if a prospective employer, state licensing agency, lending agency or school later discovers your record and believes you were being deceitful. That's why it's advisable to take the legal steps necessary to seal your juvenile record under WIC 781."
There are two situations in which your juvenile record may be reopened even after it has been sealed:
- If you are a party to a defamation civil lawsuit, your juvenile record may be opened and admissible as evidence during the proceedings. Once the lawsuit is resolved, the records will once again be sealed.5
- The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may allow automobile insurance adjustors to inspect your driving record in order to evaluate your insurance eligibility and risk. This is the only reason the DMV may release this type of information.6
- A prosecutor may access a sealed juvenile record for the purpose of locating and disclosing exculpatory evidence in a criminal case. (See AB 2952).
Most likely, yes. Unless the court determines that your juvenile court record should be retained--which would only be in extraordinary circumstances-- it will order your sealed juvenile records to be destroyed at either of the following times:
- Five (5) years after the judge ordered your record sealed if you were declared a ward of the court for being "habitually disobedient or truant," or
- When you turn 38 if you were declared a ward of the court for engaging in criminal activity.7
2. What Are the Benefits of Sealing California Juvenile Records under Welfare and Institutions Code 781?
There are several benefits to sealing your California juvenile record under Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC. The most significant benefits include:
- You will be able to state truthfully that you have no criminal history, which opens doors for employment, licensing, loan, educational and other opportunities;8
- Prospective employers may not discriminate against you for having--or even inquire about--a sealed juvenile record.9
- You will no longer need to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC of you were required to register based solely on a juvenile conviction;10 and
- You will experience the personal satisfaction of knowing that you have a "fresh start" in life and will no longer be haunted by your juvenile mistakes.
You will be eligible for WIC 781 juvenile record sealing if all of the following are true:
- You are 18 years or older now OR the jurisdiction of the juvenile court terminated at least five (5) years ago;
- You have not been convicted as an adult of any felony or any misdemeanor that involves "moral turpitude"("moral turpitude" means dishonest or immoral behavior, and crimes involving moral turpitude include California theft crimes, California fraud crimes, certain California sex offenses, and certain California drug offenses);
- The court believes you have been rehabilitated; AND
- There is no pending civil litigation arising from any of your juvenile incidents.11
However, you are ineligible to have your juvenile record sealed if you were convicted of an offense listed in California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) after you turned 14 years old.12
WIC 707(b) offenses are among the most serious types of offenses and include violations of:
- Penal Code 187 PC California's murder law or California's attempted murder law,
- Penal Code 451 PC California's arson law,
- Penal Code 211 PC California's robbery law,
- Penal Code 215 PC California's carjacking law,
- a variety of California sex offenses,
- a variety of California firearm offenses,
- Penal Code 206 PC California's torture law, and
- any California violent felony.13
Sealing records where the minor was never convicted
In addition to the eligibility described above for juvenile record sealing under WIC 781, Penal Code 851.7 PC addresses another class of people who may qualify to have their juvenile records sealed. If, while you were a minor, you were arrested for a California misdemeanor crime and
- you were released because there was insufficient evidence to hold you for the charge(s),
- the charges against you were dismissed or you were discharged without a conviction, or
- you were acquitted of the charge(s),
then you may petition the court to seal your juvenile record at any time. That is, it is not necessary that you have turned 18 or that five years have passed since the jurisdiction of the juvenile court terminated.14
This type of scenario is more similar to the process of sealing and destroying California adult criminal arrest records.
The process of sealing your California juvenile records under Welfare and Institutions Code 781 takes, on average, eight to ten months. You file your petition in the California juvenile court in the county in which you were most recently convicted.
Most likely, you won't even need to go to court yourself. In most cases, your California criminal defense attorney can appear on your behalf. However, the judge may decide to interview you in person.
Once your criminal defense attorney files the petition, the judge sets a hearing date. At the hearing, the judge reviews your petition and any evidence presented by you, the local county's Department of Probation, the District Attorney, or anyone else that has relevant information.
After the court reviews all of the information, the judge will decide whether to
- grant the petition to seal your juvenile records--in which case it will seal your records and send a copy of the order to all agencies who have possession or access to your records instructing them to seal and ultimately destroy the records, or
- deny the petition to seal your juvenile record.15
If your WIC 781 petition is denied, you may try again at a later date.
But in order to help ensure that your petition is granted the first time, it is advisable to consult with an experienced California juvenile crimes defense attorney who is familiar with California's juvenile court system.
Deferred entry of judgment
If, as a minor, you were granted a Penal Code 1000 PC drug diversion -- and successfully completed the program, then that the record of the juvenile incident should be dismissed--and your juvenile record with respect to that particular case should be automatically sealed.
Upon the successful completion of your deferred entry of judgment, you can check with the court to make sure it took this action.
Call us for help . . .
If you or a loved one is in need of help with sealing juvenile records under Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 -- Sealing California juvenile records.("(a)(1)(A) In any case in which a petition has been filed with a juvenile court to commence proceedings to adjudge a person a ward of the court, in any case in which a person is cited to appear before a probation officer or is taken before a probation officer pursuant to Section 626, or in any case in which a minor is taken before any officer of a law enforcement agency, the person or the county probation officer may, five years or more after the jurisdiction of the juvenile court has terminated as to the person, or, in a case in which no petition is filed, five years or more after the person was cited to appear before a probation officer or was taken before a probation officer pursuant to Section 626 or was taken before any officer of a law enforcement agency, or, in any case, at any time after the person has reached 18 years of age, petition the court for sealing of the records, including records of arrest, relating to the person's case, in the custody of the juvenile court and probation officer and any other agencies, including law enforcement agencies, entities, and public officials as the petitioner alleges, in his or her petition, to have custody of the records. The court shall notify the district attorney of the county and the county probation officer, if he or she is not the petitioner, and the district attorney or probation officer or any of their deputies or any other person having relevant evidence may testify at the hearing on the petition. If, after hearing, the court finds that since the termination of jurisdiction or action pursuant to Section 626, as the case may be, he or she has not been convicted of a felony or of any misdemeanor involving moral turpitude and that rehabilitation has been attained to the satisfaction of the court, it shall order all records, papers, and exhibits in the person's case in the custody of the juvenile court sealed, including the juvenile court record, minute book entries, and entries on dockets, and any other records relating to the case in the custody of the other agencies, entities and officials as are named in the order. Once the court has ordered the person's records sealed, the proceedings in the case shall be deemed never to have occurred, and the person may properly reply accordingly to any inquiry about the events, the records of which are ordered sealed. . . . (D) Notwithstanding any other law, the court shall not order the person's records sealed in any case in which the person has been found by the juvenile court to have committed an offense listed in subdivision (b) of Section 707 when he or she had attained 14 years of age or older.")
California Welfare and Institutions Code 389 uses the same language as WIC 781 but applies to the juvenile dependency court, rather than delinquency court. Dependency court has jurisdiction over neglected and abused children, while delinquency court oversees cases involving minors who commit crimes.
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 203 -- Order adjudging minor ward of juvenile court; effect; proceedings. ("An order adjudging a minor to be a ward of the juvenile court shall not be deemed a conviction of a crime for any purpose, nor shall a proceeding in the juvenile court be deemed a criminal proceeding.")
- Riverside criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi uses his former experience as an Ontario police officer to represent clients seeking juvenile record sealing and other forms of post-conviction relief throughout the Inland Empire including San Bernardino, Riverside, Banning, Fontana, Joshua Tree, Barstow and Victorville.
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 -- Sealing California juvenile records. ("(b) In any action or proceeding based upon defamation, a court, upon a showing of good cause, may order any records sealed under this section to be opened and admitted into evidence. The records shall be confidential and shall be available for inspection only by the court, jury, parties, counsel for the parties, and any other person who is authorized by the court to inspect them. Upon the judgment in the action or proceeding becoming final, the court shall order the records sealed.")
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 -- Sealing California juvenile records. ("(c)(1) Subdivision (a) does not apply to Department of Motor Vehicles records of any convictions for offenses under the Vehicle Code or any local ordinance relating to the operation, stopping and standing, or parking of a vehicle where the record of any such conviction would be a public record under Section 1808 of the Vehicle Code. However, if a court orders a case record containing any such conviction to be sealed under this section, and if the Department of Motor Vehicles maintains a public record of such a conviction, the court shall notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of the sealing and the department shall advise the court of its receipt of the notice. (2) Notwithstanding any other law, subsequent to the notification, the Department of Motor Vehicles shall allow access to its record of convictions only to the subject of the record and to insurers which have been granted requestor code numbers by the department. Any insurer to which a record of conviction is disclosed, when conviction record has otherwise been sealed under this section, shall be given notice of the sealing when the record is disclosed to the insurer. The insurer may use the information contained in the record for purposes of determining eligibility for insurance and insurance rates for the subject of the record, and the information shall not be used for any other purpose nor shall it be disclosed by an insurer to any person or party not having access to the record.")
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 -- Sealing California juvenile records. ("(d) Unless for good cause the court determines that the juvenile court record shall be retained, the court shall order the destruction of a person's juvenile court records that are sealed pursuant to this section as follows: five years after the record was ordered sealed, if the person who is the subject of the record was alleged or adjudged to be a person described by Section 601; or when the person who is the subject of the record reaches 38 years of age if the person was alleged or adjudged to be a person described by Section 602, except that if the subject of the record was found to be a person described in Section 62 because of the commission of an offense listed in subdivision (b) of Section 707 when he or she was 14 years of age or older, the record shall not be destroyed. Any other agency in possession of sealed records may destroy its records five years after the record was ordered sealed.")
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 -- Sealing California juvenile records, section (a)(1)(A), endnote 1 above.
- California Code of Regulations 7287.4 -- Employee selection. ("(d) Specific Practices. (1) Criminal Records. Except as otherwise provided by law (e.g., 12 U.S.C. 1829; Labor Code Section 432.7), it is unlawful for an employer or other covered entity to inquire or seek information regarding any applicant concerning: . . . (B) Any conviction for which the record has been judicially ordered sealed, expunged, or statutorily eradicated (e.g., juvenile offense records sealed pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code Section 389 and Penal Code Sections 851.7 or 1203.45) . . . .")
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 -- Sealing California juvenile records. ("(a)(1) . . . (C) In any case in which a ward of the juvenile court is subject to the registration requirements set forth in Section 290 of the Penal Code, a court, in ordering the sealing of the juvenile records of the person, shall also provide in the order that the person is relieved from the registration requirement and for the destruction of all registration information in the custody of the Department of Justice and other agencies, entities, and officials.")
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 -- Sealing California juvenile records, section (a)(1)(A), endnote 1 above.
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 -- Sealing California juvenile records, section (a)(1)(D), endnote 1 above.
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) -- Offenses for which sealing of juvenile records is not available. ("(b) Subdivision (c) shall be applicable in any case in which a minor is alleged to be a person described in Section 602 by reason of the violation of one of the following offenses: (1) [California Penal Code 187 PC California's] Murder [law]. (2) [Penal Code 451 PC California's] Arson [law].(3) [Penal Code 211 PC California's] Robbery [law]. (4) Rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm. (5) Sodomy by force, violence, duress, menace, or threat of great bodily harm. (6) A lewd or lascivious act as provided in subdivision (b) of Section 288 of the Penal Code. (7) Oral copulation by force, violence, duress, menace, or threat of great bodily harm. (8) An offense specified in subdivision (a) of Section 289 of the Penal Code [these last few crimes are included in California sex offenses]. (9) Kidnapping for ransom. (10) Kidnapping for purposes of robbery. (11) Kidnapping with bodily harm. (12) [California's] Attempted murder [law]. (13) Assault with a firearm or destructive device. (14) Assault by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. (15) Discharge of a firearm into an inhabited or occupied building. (16) An offense described in Section 1203.09 of the Penal Code. (17) An offense described in Section 12022.5 or 12022.53 of the Penal Code. (18) A felony offense in which the minor personally used a weapon listed in subdivision (a) of Section 16590 of the Penal Code [these last crimes are included in California firearm offenses]. (19) A felony offense described in Section 136.1 or 137 of the Penal Code. (20) Manufacturing, compounding, or selling one-half ounce or more of a salt or solution of a controlled substance specified in subdivision (e) of Section 11055 of the Health and Safety Code. (21) A violent felony, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5 of the Penal Code, which also would constitute a felony violation of subdivision (b) of Section 186.22 of the Penal Code. (22) Escape, by the use of force or violence, from a county juvenile hall, home, ranch, camp, or forestry camp in violation of subdivision (b) of Section 871 if great bodily injury is intentionally inflicted upon an employee of the juvenile facility during the commission of the escape. (23) [Penal Code 206 PC California's] Torture [law].(24) Aggravated mayhem, as described in Section 205 of the Penal Code. (25) [Penal Code 215 PC California's] Carjacking [law].while armed with a dangerous or deadly weapon. (26) Kidnapping for purposes of sexual assault, as punishable in subdivision (b) of Section 209 of the Penal Code. (27) Kidnapping as punishable in Section 209.5 of the Penal Code. (28) The offense described in subdivision (c) of Section 26100 of the Penal Code. (29) The offense described in Section 12308 of the Penal Code. (30) Voluntary manslaughter, as described in subdivision (a) of Section 192 of the Penal Code.")
- California Penal Code 851.7 PC -- Petition to seal [juvenile] court records by person arrested for misdemeanor while a minor; grounds; exceptions. ("(a) Any person who has been arrested for a misdemeanor, with or without a warrant, while a minor, may, during or after minority, petition the court in which the proceedings occurred or, if there were no court proceedings, the court in whose jurisdiction the arrest occurred, for an order sealing the records in the case, including any records of arrest and detention, if any of the following occurred: (1) He was released pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) of Section 849. (2) Proceedings against him were dismissed, or he was discharged, without a conviction. (3) He was acquitted. (b) If the court finds that the petitioner is eligible for relief under subdivision (a), it shall issue its order granting the relief prayed for. Thereafter, the arrest, detention, and any further proceedings in the case shall be deemed not to have occurred, and the petitioner may answer accordingly any question relating to their occurrence.")
- California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 -- Sealing California juvenile records, endnote 2, above. ("(a)(1) . . . (B) The court shall send a copy of the order to each agency, entity, and official named in the order, directing the agency or entity to seal its records. Each agency, entity, and official shall seal the records in its custody as directed by the order, shall advise the court of its compliance, and thereupon shall seal the copy of the court's order for sealing of records that the agency, entity, or official received.")