October 18, 2011 • Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
I often get calls from frustrated adults who decades ago had a serious or violent felony criminal charge sustained against them in juvenile court and are now finding out that they are unable to get their juvenile records sealed or the cases dismissed and set aside. This is a terrible situation, usually decades have passed since their teenage troubles and the people I speak with are now productive members of the community. They have jobs and families and lead law abiding lives. They are often seeking professional licenses or are up for job promotions or are required to submit to routine background checks – only to find that a very serious juvenile felony still follows them around.
Why is this?
Under California law, if as a juvenile you had a petition sustained against you for a criminal offense listed under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 707(b) and the offense was committed after you were 14 years old, you cannot have your record sealed.
Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court has determined that the expungement/dismissal statute (PC 1203.4) does not apply to juvenile cases. If you are really interested, check out a case called In Re Chong K (2006) 145 CA4th 13.
Here’s an even more ridiculous situation: If you went to the Youth Authority (now called Division of Juvenile Justice) and successfully completed time there, once you were paroled your case could be dismissed pursuant Welfare and Institutions Code Section 1772. But someone who was committed of the same offense, but only sent to a probation camp instead of YA/ DJJ is NOT eligible to have the charges dismissed. Yes, you read that right. Because someone is given a less severe punishment (camp) rather than a more severe punishment (YA /DJJ), that person penalized for it now.
So can anything be done? It depends. Some courts might be willing to reduce an “unsealable” charge down to a “sealable” charge. For example: A court might be convinced to reduce a robbery (Penal Code 211) down to grand theft (Penal Code 487 (a)-(c)). The robbery is not sealable, the grand theft is sealable. There are numerous other scenarios, this is just one example.
There is no legal procedure or provision in any code section that allows the sealing of unsalable juvenile records. It is done in the court’s discretion and in the vast majority of cases, it is helpful for the DA to sign off on it as well.
This is not an easy process, but it can be done under the right circumstances. The right circumstances usually include that you’ve not picked up any adult cases (or any adult case was very minor and happened a long time ago). This takes a lot of work and fortitude, but it can be done.
If you would like to contact me to discuss the matter, I will review the case free of charge and can tell you whether or not there is even a possibility that this can be accomplished. I am an experienced juvenile defense attorney. You can contact my office at 310-210-0744 if you wish to discuss it further.