Anyone who was taken into custody or referred to court for delinquent conduct, which is generally Class A or B misdemeanor or any felony offenses, or conduct indicating a need for supervision (CINS), which is generally a class C misdemeanor, conduct that would not be against the law if committed by an adult (like drinking or running away), or certain specific offenses such as prostitution and “sexting,” has a juvenile file and record.
Under the record keeping system for juvenile records in Texas, if a juvenile was adjudicated for delinquent conduct (Class A or B misdemeanor or any felony), the juvenile probably has a juvenile record with numerous entities including local law enforcement, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). That record is a permanent record that is not destroyed or erased unless the record is eligible for sealing and the child or the child's family hires a lawyer to file a petition in court to have the record sealed.
While juvenile records are generally confidential, there are certain exceptions that allow police, prosecutors, probation officers, and other criminal and juvenile justice officials in Texas and elsewhere to have access. The records may also be available to employers, educational institutions, licensing agencies, and other organizations when you apply for employment or educational programs. Treatment records (counseling, placement, drug treatment, etc.) are confidential and access to them is much more limited.
Texas has a system in place that restricts the access to juvenile records once a person turns 17 years of age. This is in addition to your opportunity to have your records sealed or destroyed under other provisions in the Texas Family Code. Under automatic restriction of access, the records are not destroyed or sealed; they still exist but can only be accessed by federal or state criminal justice agencies for a criminal justice purpose, such as investigation of a crime or screening applicants for employment with the criminal justice agency. For anyone else who asks about the records, including employers, schools, and licensing bodies, the entity in possession of the records is required to respond, “No records exist for that person.” Additionally, once your records have been restricted, you are allowed to “legally deny” your history and say you were never arrested, prosecuted, or adjudicated for an offense.
Restricted access does not apply to gang records. However, access is limited to federal, state, and local criminal justice agencies for a criminal justice purpose, which means employers and schools cannot access the gang records.
Restricted access does not apply to sex offender registration records because the purpose of sex offender registration is to notify the public. If you are required to register as a sex offender for an offense committed as a juvenile, you may have the right to have your records sealed after your obligation to register expires. There are also legal proceedings available that may allow for reconsideration of your duty to register.
If your juvenile records are placed on restricted access, you are allowed to:
- deny the existence of the records; and
- deny the arrest, prosecution, or adjudication ever happened.
For example, once the records are on restricted access, you may legally answer “No” when a job, school, or occupational licensing application asks, “Have you ever been arrested for or convicted or adjudicated of a crime?”
To be sure your records are eligible for and placed on restricted access you must:
- Successfully complete your period of probation or parole with no violations; and commit no criminal offense after becoming 17 years of age.
- The Restricted Access system truly gives juveniles the opportunity for rehabilitation and a fresh start if they do not commit any further criminal offenses.