Interviewer: You also said the bias of juvenile court is not to punish but to rehabilitate. So juveniles would probably get a better outcome if the case were kept in juvenile court versus going to adult court?
Munoz: That’s correct. You’re much more likely to get a better outcome if convicted at sentencing in the juvenile court system. In Maricopa County, judges do a very good job at focusing on rehabilitation. If your son or daughter has a drug problem the court is going to really focus on that and they’re going to try to do everything they can to get your son or daughter treatment for their drug problem.
Sometimes in juvenile court you’ll see offenses that involve alcohol. The court system will work very hard to get your child alcohol abuse treatment. Sometimes you’ll see things like truancy, where your son or daughter is just not going to school. Then the court will do what they can to make sure your son or daughter shows up to school. So the court really focuses on helping the juvenile.
Whereas in an adult process it’s going to be much more focused on just penalizing that person in a very harsh way. That can be through jail time or very high fines.
Access To Juvenile Criminal Records
Interviewer: You talked about getting juvenile records sealed, is that an automatic process or do you have to go through court and have an attorney help you do that?
Munoz: The nice thing about the juvenile court is that any conviction that happens while you’re a juvenile will automatically be sealed. The only people that have access to it are certain prosecutors within the state. The information goes into protected databases.
They won’t be reported to most criminal justice systems. They won’t be accessible over the Internet or through public records; they are sealed. A person cannot just do a public records request and to access it. They would have to get court order to see it.
Are Records Accessible When the Juvenile Becomes An Adult?
Interviewer: How about if a juvenile commits a crime and then, as an adult, they commit another crime. Do their juvenile records become unsealed or the juvenile record has no implications on what happens when he or she is an adult?
Munoz: A juvenile criminal history cannot technically be used as prior criminal history at sentencing for an adult conviction. But it can be used as a sentencing-aggravating factor to a judge. A judge can consider the juvenile criminal history when passing sentence.
A court just cannot consider it a technical prior felony conviction. There is a difference and so that is why it’s important to keep that history in the juvenile system, not as an adult.
Interviewer: Do records become sealed the moment you become 18 or do you have to be 21?
Munoz: Anything that happens in juvenile court stays into that juvenile system, which nobody has access to. Once you become 18, if you get in trouble again then obviously whatever happens from there on goes into the adult system.
Interviewer: I see.
Munoz: Adult criminal history is accessible usually through public records.
Turning 18-Years Old During A Juvenile Case
Interviewer: What about if a juvenile turns 18 during the criminal investigation or before the case is resolved? Does that change anything about their case and what will happen to them?
Munoz: Yes, if you’re in the juvenile system and you’re getting close to turning 18, you need to make a decision with your lawyer as soon as possible because you either need to fight the case and go to trial as soon as possible. You can try to have the resolution occur in the juvenile court system.
Or, if you want to take a plea agreement, you need to do that as soon as possible in the juvenile court system. If you turn 18 while you’re in the juvenile court system the court will lose jurisdiction over you and the case can be turned over to the adult system.
Interviewer: That’s a good point to make.
Munoz: If that happens, you’ll lose the benefit of being in the juvenile court system.