The nation’s first juvenile court system was established in Cook County, Illinois, in 1899. The system was intended to address the reality that adolescents are different from adults. Unlike “adult” courts, juvenile courts traditionally focus on educating and rehabilitating young offenders and keeping them from returning to a life of crime. In the nearly 120 years since the founding of the first juvenile court, the stated goals of such systems have remained the same, but many people believe that bureaucracy and red tape have made it nearly impossible many young people to start over again after making a mistake. Thanks to a new law that went into effect at the beginning of this year, however, most juvenile offenders will now qualify for the automatic expungement of their records.
A Historically Large Problem
In the spring of 2016, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission released the results of an analysis of the state’s juvenile court system. The study looked at juvenile arrests from 2004 to 2014—1.85 million arrests in all. Of those arrests, only 5,310 were ever expunged from the record of the arrestees. This amounts to just three expungements for every 1,000 arrests, a number which includes arrests that did not lead to findings of delinquency or convictions.
Epungement is the formal legal process through which all records of an arrest are destroyed, deleted, and otherwise made inaccessible. A record that is not expunged will continue to show up on background checks for employment, housing, and educational purposes. The study revealed that the overwhelming majority of juveniles arrested in Illinois were never afforded the opportunity to start adulthood with a clean slate.
A New Approach
In August of 2017, the state legislature and Governor Bruce Rauner took definitive steps to help juveniles fresh starts by passing a measure that creates an automatic expungement process for young arrestees. If a juvenile arrest does not result in a finding of delinquency—roughly the juvenile equivalent of a conviction—the arrest will be automatically expunged from the person’s record. Expungement is possible for other offenses—with exceptions for certain violent or sexual crimes—but the person will need to wait until two years have passed since the case was closed.
The new law also makes juvenile records less accessible to the general public. Lawmakers hope that the updated approach will allow young people to avoid having a single mistake or lapse in judgement from following them for the rest of their lives.
Call for Help Today
If your son or daughter has been arrested and is facing charges in juvenile court, you need an attorney who will fight to protect his or her rights. Contact an experienced Joliet juvenile defense lawyer to discuss your options today. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation with Attorney Jack L. Zaremba.