In New Jersey, a juvenile is defined as a person 17 years of age or younger. The most common juvenile criminal offenses are drug-related offenses, theft and shoplifting, disorderly conduct, assault, alcohol-related offenses (“Baby DWI”), and burglary. A juvenile charged with a crime faces a juvenile adjudication of delinquency. Delinquency means the commission of an act by a juvenile that, if committed by an adult, would constitute a crime, a disorderly persons offense, a petty disorderly persons offense, or a violation of any other penal statute, ordinance or regulation.
Simply put, when a juvenile commits a criminal offense, he/she is taken to court, and, if found to have committed the offense, is adjudicated delinquent rather than found guilty of a crime. It is called a juvenile adjudication rather than a criminal conviction. It must be noted that juveniles who are 16 and older can be transferred to adult court under the waiver laws if they are accused of homicide, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and other violent offenses.
Not everything is automatically sealed
Many juveniles and parents incorrectly assume that juvenile records are “sealed” or erased once the child reaches 18 years of age. This is incorrect because your “Record of Arrest and Prosecution” (RAP sheet) contains every arrest, charge, and conviction you have ever had in the state, whether it occurred when you were a juvenile or adult. In order to keep your RAP sheet unavailable to police, prosecutors and other public officials, it must be sealed or expunged.
New Jersey allows the expungement of juvenile records once the juvenile reaches a certain age. In some cases, the records are destroyed and, in other cases, the records are simply sealed. The purpose is to allow a minor who has committed criminal acts, also referred to as delinquent acts, to erase his/her record permanently, usually at the age of 17 or 18. The idea is to allow the juvenile offender to enter adulthood with a “clean slate.” This also happens to be the main difference between a juvenile expungement and an adult expungement, i.e. a juvenile’s entire record can be expunged (destroyed). (N.J.S. 2C:52-4.1).
N.J.S.A 2C:52-4.1(a) defines the types of juvenile crimes that can be expunged. Under this section, crimes that can be expunged include:
- Any act that would be considered a crime or felony if the act were committed by an adult (for example, theft)
- Any act that would be constitute a disorderly or petty disorderly persons offense if committed by an adult, (for, example assault) or
- Any act that would constitute an ordinance violation if committed by an adult, (for example public urination).
Expunge entire record
N.J.S.A 2C:52-4.1(b) discusses the eligibility requirements for an expungement of a juvenile record. A juvenile’s eligibility requirements are similar to that of an adult. He or she may expunge the ENTIRE record of delinquency adjudications if:
- It has been 5 or more years since their final discharge from custody/supervision, OR it has been at least 5 years after the entry of any other court order, not involving custody/supervision; and,
- The person has not been convicted of: (a) a crime, a disorderly (petty disorderly) persons offense, OR (b) adjudged a delinquent, OR (c) in need of supervision, during the previous 5 years, AND no criminal proceeding or complaint is pending seeking a conviction or adjudication; and,
- They have never been adjudged a juvenile delinquent on the basis of an act which, if committed by an adult, would be ineligible for expungement; and,
- The person has never had an adult conviction expunged; and,
- The person has never had adult criminal charges dismissed, following completion of a supervisory treatment or other diversionary program.
In other words, an entire juvenile record can be expunged if five years have passed since the adjudication or release from legal custody or supervision; and the person has not been convicted of a crime, disorderly or petty disorderly offense or adjudicated delinquent within the past five years; and the person does not have any pending charges.