Florida juvenile records are maintained as confidential records, exempt from Florida’s vast public records law. However, some juvenile criminal records are not exempt. Specifically, felony juvenile arrests are considered, by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement [FDLE], to be public records.
Juvenile Felony Records
Under Florida law, FDLE is allowed to disclose felony arrests by minors. The Clerk of Courts and the Department of Juvenile Justice maintain all juvenile records as confidential.
The Misconception About Juvenile Records and Confidentiality
The confidentiality of juvenile arrest records depends on the government agency handling the information and the nature of the charge.
Section 985.04, Florida Statutes, allows FDLE to do this. A quick glance at that statute indicates that all juvenile criminal records (name, photograph, address, arrest report) must be maintained as confidential (non-public) unless one of the following facts existed:
- Child was taken into custody for an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult.
- Child has been transferred into the adult (criminal justice) system.
- Child has been automatically direct filed into adult court.
- Child transferred into adult system but sentenced to juvenile system.
Referring to section 943.053 Florida Statutes, the FDLE interprets the law to read that these juvenile records are public records. In a letter from FDLE’s General Counsel dated October 17, 2006, FDLE stated:
Criminal history information, including information relating to minors, compiled by the Criminal Justice Information program from intrastate sources shall be available on a priority basis to criminal justice agencies for criminal justice purposes free of charge. After providing the program with all known identifying information, persons in the private sector and noncriminal justice agencies may be provided criminal history information upon tender of fees as established in this subsection and in a manner prescribed by rule of [FDLE].
Chapter 985 references the Department of Juvenile Justice [DJJ]. Chapter 943 refers specifically to the FDLE. This interpretation of the statutes seems to restrict the dissemination of juvenile records of all but one agency.
FDLE’s Selling of Juvenile Records Nullifies the Statutory Automatic Expungement
Section 985.04(7)(b), Florida Statutes, indicates that Juvenile arrest records are to be destroyed upon the child reaching the age of 21 (or 26 depending on certain facts) pursuant to chapter 943 (referencing FDLE). However, a felony record that has already been sold would not benefit from this automatic expunction. Private venders who have already bought these records are not required to remove them.
943.0515 Retention of criminal history records of minors.—
(1)(a) The Criminal Justice Information Program shall retain the criminal history record of a minor who is classified as a serious or habitual juvenile offender or committed to a juvenile correctional facility or juvenile prison under chapter 985 for 5 years after the date the offender reaches 21 years of age, at which time the record shall be expunged unless it meets the criteria of paragraph (2)(a) or paragraph (2)(b).
(b) If the minor is not classified as a serious or habitual juvenile offender or committed to a juvenile correctional facility or juvenile prison under chapter 985, the program shall retain the minor’s criminal history record for 5 years after the date the minor reaches 19 years of age, at which time the record shall be expunged unless it meets the criteria of paragraph (2)(a) or paragraph (2)(b).
(2)(a) If a person 18 years of age or older is charged with or convicted of a forcible felony and the person’s criminal history record as a minor has not yet been destroyed, the person’s record as a minor must be merged with the person’s adult criminal history record and must be retained as a part of the person’s adult record.
(b) If, at any time, a minor is adjudicated as an adult for a forcible felony, the minor’s criminal history record prior to the time of the minor’s adjudication as an adult must be merged with his or her record as an adjudicated adult.
(3) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the Criminal Justice Information Program shall retain the criminal history record of a minor adjudicated delinquent for a violation committed on or after July 1, 2007, as provided in s. 943.0435(1)(a)1.d. Such records may not be destroyed and must be merged with the person’s adult criminal history record and retained as a part of the person’s adult record.
However, by the time these records are destroyed, pursuant to the above listed statute, the FDLE has already sold it to private entities for years. These private entities will continue to possess this information even after the DJJ is required to destroy their records.
Two Methods to Expunge a Juvenile Record
There are two ways to expunge a juvenile record. The first method is the Juvenile Diversion Expungement. If your child has completed a diversion program and the charges were dropped this method is the best. WARNING: It must be completed within 12 months of the completion of the diversion program. This is a one-time use to expunge a juvenile record that does not use-up the one time use of the adult expungement or sealing method.
The second method is for expungements and sealings. It is the same procedure used for a standard record expungement. This can be used only once and addresses the charges from one arrest or series of arrests for the same criminal conduct.
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