Are Juvenile Records Sealed in New Jersey?
While the common perception is that juvenile records are 100% confidential and withheld from the public, that is not exactly accurate. The disclosure of juvenile records will depend on the facts, circumstances and ultimate outcome of the juvenile matter.
Individuals under the age of eighteen (18) are deemed “Juveniles” in New Jersey, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-22a, and are treated much differently than adults. For instance, juveniles are not charged with committing a “crime” on a criminal complaint. Rather, they are charged with an act of “delinquency” on a “Complaint of Juvenile Delinquency.” Juveniles also cannot be “convicted”, but rather are “adjudicated delinquent.”
The purpose of the Juvenile Justice Code is distinctive from the adult criminal justice system. While the adult criminal code seeks to deter and punish criminal behavior, the purpose of the Juvenile Justice Code is to assist and rehabilitate the juvenile. Specifically, the juvenile code states that the purpose of the juvenile justice system is “to preserve the unity of the family whenever possible and to provide for the care, protection, and wholesome mental and physical development of juveniles coming within the provisions of this act” as well as to “to remove from children committing delinquent acts certain statutory consequences of criminal behavior, and to substitute therefor an adequate program of supervision, care and rehabilitation, and a range of sanctions designed to promote accountability and protect the public”. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-21a-b.
In an effort to rehabilitate and care for the juvenile, the Juvenile Justice Code provides for the non-disclosure of a juvenile’s history of adjudications, i.e., confidentiality of juvenile records. The code states that “[s]ocial, medical, psychological, legal and other records of the court and probation division, and records of law enforcement agencies, pertaining to juveniles charged as a delinquent or found to be part of a juvenile-family crisis, shall be strictly safeguarded from public inspection”. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60a (emphasis added).
The “strict safeguarding” is not absolute. For instance, the Code provides for certain information to be disclosed to the victim’s immediate family and the juvenile’s school. Specifically, at the time of charge, adjudication or disposition, information as to the identity of a juvenile charged with an offense, the offense charged, the adjudication and disposition shall, upon request, be disclosed to: (1) The victim or a member of the victim’s immediate family; (2) On a confidential basis, the principal of the school where the juvenile is enrolled for use by the principal and such members of the staff and faculty of the school as the principal deems appropriate for maintaining order, safety or discipline in the school or to planning programs relevant to the juvenile’s educational and social development, provided that no record of such information shall be maintained except as authorized by regulation of the Department of Education; or (3) A party in a subsequent legal proceeding involving the juvenile, upon approval by the court. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60c. There are also circumstances when a school will be notified without the need for the information to be requested. For instance, if the alleged offense occurred on school property or a school bus. See N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60d.
Disclosure of a Juvenile Record to the Public
In addition to the above, a juvenile’s record may be disclosed to the public under certain circumstances:
Information as to the identity of a juvenile adjudicated delinquent, the offense, the adjudication and the disposition shall be disclosed to the public where the offense for which the juvenile has been adjudicated delinquent if committed by an adult, would constitute a crime of the first, second or third degree, or aggravated assault, destruction or damage to property to an extent of more than $ 500.00, unless upon application at the time of disposition the juvenile demonstrates a substantial likelihood that specific and extraordinary harm would result from such disclosure in the specific case. Where the court finds that disclosure would be harmful to the juvenile, the reasons therefor shall be stated on the record. [N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60f (emphasis added).]
As a result, despite the statute’s language stating that a juvenile’s records “shall be strictly safeguarded from public inspection”, there are a number of circumstances where a juvenile’s identity is not only available for public consumption, but required to be disclosed.
In light of the above, it cannot be assumed that all juvenile matters remain confidential. The confidentiality of any negotiated resolution of a juvenile matter must take into consideration the potential disclosure of the juvenile’s identity, the offense and the adjudication. If your family is faced with a potential juvenile adjudication, you should speak with an experienced Burlington County Juvenile Lawyer before allowing your son or daughter enter an admission.