How are juvenile records kept in Texas?
There are two ways that juvenile records are kept in Texas. The first is records of a court and probation department, which includes records of both CINS and delinquent conduct. The second is the records in the Juvenile Justice Information System (JJIS), which is a database maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Records related to arrests, prosecutions, adjudications, and dispositions for delinquent conduct are included in JJIS.
Who can access juvenile records?
While juvenile records are generally confidential, there are certain exceptions that allow police, prosecutors, probation officers, and other criminal and juvenile justice officials in Texas and elsewhere to have access. The records may also be available to employers, educational institutions, licensing agencies, and other organizations when applying for employment or educational programs. Treatment records (counseling, placement, drug treatment, etc.) are confidential, and access to them is much more limited.
What is automatic restriction of access to records?
Texas has a system in place that restricts the access to juvenile records once a person turns 17 years of age. This is in addition to your opportunity to have your records sealed or destroyed under other provisions in the Texas Family Code.
Under automatic restriction of access, the records are not destroyed or sealed; they still exist, but can only be accessed by federal or state criminal justice agencies for a criminal justice purpose, such as investigation of a crime or screening applicants for employment with the criminal justice agency. For anyone else who asks about the records, including employers, schools, and licensing bodies, the entity in possession of the records is required to respond, “No records exist for that person.” Additionally, once your records have been restricted, you are allowed to “legally deny” your history and say you were never arrested, prosecuted, or adjudicated for an offense.
What do I have to do to get access to my records restricted?
While getting records sealed or destroyed generally requires you to hire an attorney and file a request with the juvenile court, getting your records restricted does not require any action on your part. Prior to 2011, records were not restricted until a person turned 21, and then they were only restricted if the person did not get a conviction or deferred adjudication in adult court for a class A or class B misdemeanor or felony after turning 17. Effective June 17, 2011, the records are automatically restricted when you turn 17. This applies to juvenile records created before, on, or after that date.
What records are not eligible for restricted access?
The only juvenile records that are not eligible for automatic restricted access are cases that were:
• handled as determinate sentence cases by the juvenile court;
• certified (transferred) to adult criminal court; or
• prosecuted in a justice or municipal court.
What about sex offender records?
Restricted access does not apply to sex offender registration records because the purpose of sex offender registration is to notify the public. If you are required to register as a sex offender for an offense committed as a juvenile, you may have the right to have your records sealed after your obligation to register expires. There are also legal proceedings available that may allow for reconsideration of your duty to register.
What about gang records?
Restricted access does not apply to gang records. However, access is limited to federal, state, and local criminal justice agencies for a criminal justice purpose, which means employers and schools cannot access the gang records.
How does restricted access benefit me?
If your juvenile records are placed on restricted access, you are allowed to:
• deny the existence of the records; and
• deny the arrest, prosecution, or adjudication ever happened.
For example, once the records are on restricted access, you may legally answer “no” when a job, school, or occupational licensing application asks, “Have you ever been arrested for or convicted or adjudicated of a crime?”
What is sealing of records?
Sealing of records is a process that allows you to have your records officially “sealed” so no one can access them. Records that are sealed are treated as though they never existed. You are allowed to legally deny that you were ever involved in the juvenile system. Records can be “unsealed” for very limited purposes. Typically, getting your records sealed requires you to initiate a formal court proceeding, and you may need an attorney.
What is expunction of records?
While convictions of class C misdemeanors in justice or municipal court are confidential if you have satisfied the judgment against you, the records still exist. If you have only one conviction prior to your 17th birthday, you may be able to have that offense “expunged” or removed from your record.
Where can I get additional information?
Expunction: Code of Criminal Procedure §§ 58.201 – 58.211
Restricted Access: Texas Family Code §§ 58.201 – 58.211
Sealing: Texas Family Code § 58.003