Will a Juvenile Record Show Up on the Background Check?

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At what point do youthful indiscretions end up going on a permanent record and hurt your future employment chances? For individuals who got into trouble as a juvenile but have not gotten into trouble since then, this can be a very concerning question.

The good news is that while not ideal by any stretch, there are laws in place to protect people who may have committed criminal offenses as kids, but have straightened up their life since then.

In most cases, a juvenile criminal record will be sealed or expunged once the individual turns either 18 or 21 based on the offense, their behavior as an adult, and the state that the crime was committed in.

This means most juvenile criminal records will be sealed, and not seen on a normal background check, but there are some notable exceptions.

Juvenile Records and Background Checks

Usually a juvenile record will not show up on background checks. That doesn’t mean a potential employer might not find out about it during a background screening due to public news story or related court records but normally this isn’t an issue.

Juvenile court has a different standard when it comes to measuring punishing an offender and making sure not to handicap their future.

Are Juvenile Records Sealed?

In most cases juvenile records are sealed, assuming the crime didn’t result in a sentence that went into adulthood the way that homicides or manslaughter charges could.

The idea here is that kids can make mistakes, but they should have every chance to turn their life around and sealing their criminal history from childhood or teenage years gives them a chance to do just that.

It is worth noting that while juvenile records won’t show up on a background check for a job or your average criminal background check, for jobs that require a security clearance or working around kids, it’s possible the record will still pop up.

Think police, law enforcement, applying for a daycare license – these are jobs where the additional security and safety criterion means the applicant will be more thoroughly checked than usual.

Concerns About Juvenile Offenses Showing Up When a Background Check Is Done

There are some legitimate concerns that despite a juvenile conviction not supposed to be revealed, that some records are being improperly disclosed when they shouldn’t be. This Juvenile Justice article goes into some long-standing problems with protecting juvenile conviction records.

This is a serious potential problem when a criminal history check brings back a hit for a juvenile record that shouldn’t appear when a potential employer runs a background check on you.

State Specific Variations

In most cases juvenile records are sealed, assuming the crime is below a certain level. Felonies like murder are an exception in most cases, and in some states it’s conditional. Like in the state of Iowa, where juvenile records are expunged at age 21, but only if that person did not commit an aggravated misdemeanor or felony during the ages of 18-21.

If they did, the records don’t get sealed.

Multiple states have certain statutes or conditions like that.

Others go the other direction with a “Clean Slate” initiative that expunges the records completely, sealed or not, after enough years. These vary from 8-12 years depending on what state the crime was committed in.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has an excellent page showing all details on how each state handles sealing and expungement, or if they don’t. It’s a great resource for figuring out how a person’s juvenile records are or aren’t protected.

Expunging Juvenile Records

Whether or not a juvenile record is eligible for expungement depends on a variety of factors like the state, the severity of the offense, and the specific laws regarding the crime, and location. When expunged, records don’t show in a background check and in fact shouldn’t even be available at all.

Can Juvenile Felony Arrest Records Be Expunged?

In most cases the arrest history of juveniles are going to be eligible to be expunged. Whether the term used is sealed or expunged, the end result is the same.

The most common exception to this is when the crime was a violent one like assault, manslaughter, or sexual assault. In these cases many states have exceptions where the juvenile arrest records are not expunged, but remain findable.

How to Apply for Expungement

In some states expungement is automatic when a juvenile offender turns to a certain age or a certain amount of time passes.

However, juvenile law differs from one state and situation to another. For those who have records that aren’t automatically expunged, the process for applying is generally the same no matter what state the crime took place in:

  1. Locate your criminal file from the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation
  2. Find the state court website online
  3. Search for your state’s “Application to Expunge Court Record” document or form
  4. Fill it out and follow the instructions to begin the process

Some form of this is in place in all 50 states, and while filing is no guarantee of success, the process is there for anyone who was found guilty as a juvenile delinquent to petition the court to have those records sealed.

Mitigating the Impact of Juvenile Records

If your records are sealed then they should have very little, if any, impact on your present adult life. They won’t show up on most pre-employment screenings or background checks.

However, for those who do have records that are public and aren’t sealed there are a couple simple steps to take to mitigate how much that will affect you in any job search.

The most important steps you can take when your records are open to the public are:

  • Start any process for getting those records sealed/expunged if at all possible
  • Honestly answer any questions about previous arrests or charges
  • Be upfront about the fact you have a record, and have well-prepared answers for explaining why a long past issue should be seen as a learning experience versus a disqualification

Taking steps to get the records sealed is the best first step, but if they are still public records don’t lie or be dishonest about them. Taking a straightforward approach is the best way to go.

Final Thoughts

While having a juvenile record can be difficult, in most cases they are sealed and will not show up in background checks. This means that for most individuals they will not be affected in normal job searches.

There are also multiple options for getting the records sealed, meaning even if your juvenile records are open there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage any future background check will do.

Written by Shane Dayton

Shane, an MFA grad and seasoned online writer, specializes in security and privacy, using his vast state-to-state travel experiences to guide readers through the complexities of information safety in a digital world. Read more of Shane's articles.