A 24 year-old young man, who had been adjudicated delinquent at the age of 17 for possession with intent to sell 185 Ecstasy pills at school, was successful in challenging a judge’s refusal to expunge his juvenile record. Expungement of juvenile records, if granted, is thorough. Pennsylvania law specifically provides that when records are expunged, law enforcement authorities are obliged “to remove information so that there is no trace or indication that such information existed.”
As a juvenile, the young man had admitted the offenses, was adjudicated a delinquent, spent three months in a treatment facility, and was discharged fro supervision after six months of supervised probation. Five years after he had completed his probation, he petitioned the county court for expungement of his record.
The stated purpose of Pennsylvania’s juvenile laws is to provide juveniles with rehabilitation and an opportunity to change their behavior. As a result, juveniles are not charged with “crimes”;instead, they are charged with “delinquent acts.” They are not “convicted”; instead, they are “adjudicated delinquent.”
Pennsylvania law provides that in minor cases, county judges may order the expungement and destruction of the records of a juvenile’s adjudication if the charges are dismissed or if six months have passed since treatment was concluded. In more serious cases, juveniles must wait five years from the end of their treatment to seek expungement and must also show that they have not been charged with any additional offenses. In deciding whether to expunge records in serious cases, the county judge must consider the juvenile’s original offense, the juvenile’s age, history of employment, criminal activity, and drug or alcohol problems, and any adverse consequences that the juvenile may suffer if the records are not expunged. The judge must also consider whether retention of the records is required for purposes of protection of the public safety.
The young man who sought expungement for his juvenile records of possession of Ecstasy had finished high school following his probation, held a steady job in the construction industry, was attending community college, and had no further encounters with law enforcement following his juvenile adjudication. Nevertheless, prosecutors objected to the expungement, arguing that the juvenile had been 17 when he arrested and was not young or unsophisticated. They also focused on the serious nature of the offense, arguing that the juvenile had been selling a significant amount of Ecstasy in school, an illegal drug that acts as a stimulant and a hallucinogen. The prosecutors further noted that the juvenile had been able to finish high school, get into college, and get a job, all without any problems having been caused by his juvenile record. The prosecutors felt that the public was better protected by the court’s having a records of the juvenile adjudication. The county judge denied expungement, relying in part on provisions of Pennsylvania drug laws that consider drug sales not appropriate for expungement.
On appeal, the juvenile prevailed and got his juvenile record expunged. The appellate court found that the expungement laws for juveniles are very different from those for adults. Noting that the juvenile expungement law provides, “an opportunity for children who crash upon the reef of criminal behavior to leave behind the damaging effect of such collisions, “the appellate court reversed the county judge’s decision and ordered the juvenile records expunged.