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Confidentiality of Records in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court

| Mar 25, 2020 | Firm News |

Although Virginia recognizes that juvenile offenders must be treated differently from adults, and place more emphasis on alternatives to incarceration, juveniles charged with criminal offenses can still face serious, potentially life-long consequences. Because the General Assembly promotes a policy to include juvenile adjudications for sentencing enhancement purposes, juvenile adjudications will be included as prior crimes for determining range of punishment for subsequent adult convictions. Another remarkably harsh consequence is the loss of future juvenile status. Thus, if a child is deemed an adult for an adjudication at the age of 14, he will be treated as an adult for all subsequent adjudications. Juveniles fourteen (14) and over who are convicted of a felony will have a felony record for life. That record will forever be open to the public, colleges, the military, and prospective employers. Worse still, juveniles can be tried as adults and if convicted can be sentenced to adult prison, even as young as fourteen years old.

Juvenile proceedings are “conducted outside of the public’s full gaze, and the youths brought before our juvenile courts have been shielded from publicity. This insistence on confidentiality is born of a tender concern for the welfare of the child, to hide youthful errors and “bury them in the graveyard of the forgotten past.” For this reason, records pertaining to a juvenile court case are confidential, with very few exceptions.

All juvenile case files are required to be filed separately from adult files and the juvenile court records may be viewed only by:

The judge, probation officers and professional staff assigned to serve the juvenile and domestic relations district courts;
Representatives of a public or private agency or department providing supervision or having legal custody of the child or furnishing evaluation or treatment of the child ordered or requested by the court;
The attorney for any party, including the attorney for the Commonwealth;
Any other person, agency or institution, by order of the court, having a legitimate interest in the case or in the work of the court.
In addition, a community-based probation services agency, for the purpose of preparing a pretrial investigation report or a presentence or post sentence report, or for preparing a report for the Parole Board, adult probation and parole officers, may access to an accused’s or inmate’s juvenile court records. The purpose of the community-based probation services access is limited to preparing the discretionary sentencing guidelines worksheets and related risk assessment instruments for the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Any Commonwealth’s Attorney and any local pretrial services or community-based probation officer or state adult probation or parole officer may access a defendant’s juvenile court delinquency records maintained in electronic format by the court. The purpose for accessing these electronic records is strictly limited purposes of preparing a pretrial investigation report, including any related risk assessment instrument, any presentence report, any discretionary sentencing guidelines worksheets, including related risk assessment instruments, any post-sentence investigation report or preparing for any transfer or sentencing hearing.

A gaping exception to the confidentiality of juvenile records is when a juvenile is 14 years of age or older at the time of the offense is adjudicated delinquent on the basis of an act which would be a felony if committed by an adult. These court records are open to the public. However, if a hearing was closed, the judge may order that certain records or portions of the records may remain confidential to the extent necessary to protect any juvenile victim or juvenile witness.