FAQ's About Juvenile Records and Confidentiality
The first priority in any juvenile case is getting the ideal result in court. For more on that, read The Parent's Guide to Juvenile Criminal Defense in Illinois.
But what about after court?
Do you have to disclose a juvenile arrest on job or school applications? Will it show up on a background check? Does a juvenile record "go away" on the eighteenth birthday?
The answer is that it depends on what you were charged with and who is doing the background check. The good news is that major updates to Illinois law strengthen juvenile protection laws. The not-so-good news is that there are still many weaknesses that allow juvenile records to show up on background checks.
This guide will help you understand both your rights under the law and where you may be vulnerable. But there are three important notes about this information:
First, most laws protecting juvenile records confidentiality do not apply to cases that have not been expunged. Illinois law provides automatic expungement in some, but not all juvenile cases. See FAQ #8 below to learn how juvenile expungements work in Illinois.
Second, none of it applies outside of Illinois. Neither other states nor the federal government are bound by Illinois law:
Example. Jose was arrested for felony shoplifting when he was 17 years old. Because the case was eventually dismissed, the record of the case qualifies for automatic expungement in Illinois.
When Jose turns 18, he fills out a written application to work in a Chicago warehouse. The application asks whether he has ever been arrested. Under Illinois law, Jose has an absolute right to not disclose the arrest on the application.1
Jose also applies to Smartelligence, a California tech company. The online application asks whether Jose has ever been arrested. Illinois law does not apply because the application is online and not "in" Illinois.2
When Jose turns 21, he applies for relief from deportation under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).3 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asks Jose for information on his criminal background. Illinois law does not give Jose the right to keep his juvenile shoplifting case confidential, and the federal authorities will know about it.
Finally, none of the information in this guide applies to unlawful sharing of juvenile records. Whether by accident or on purpose, juvenile records are often shared illegally.4 With the growth of online and electronic record keeping, juvenile records are more portable than ever. If there is a record, it should never be considered totally confidential, no matter what the law says.
1. What Is a "Juvenile Record"?
Fingerprints, photographs, arrest reports and computer database entries connecting a person arrested before their 18th birthday with an arrest or juvenile criminal court case.
2. Does Your Juvenile Record Show Up On a Background Check?
This depends on who is doing the background check, what you were arrested for and when.
Felony Arrests That Happen After Your 17th Birthday
If you were arrested for a felony after your 17th birthday, your fingerprint, description and racial data will be reported to the FBI.5 This record is then accessible via FBI Identity History Summary, Live Scan or any other criminal background check that uses federally reported fingerprint data.6
As for who can access this data, the answer is "You." Jobs in teaching, real-estate, nursing, medicine, pharmacy, volunteering and law increasingly require you voluntarily submit fingerprint data for a federal criminal background check.
One way to find out what's on your federal background is to do a check on yourself. For fastest results, use an FBI-approved Channeler, such as National Background Check, Inc. And if you find errors on your background, there is a way to correct the FBI's record.
Misdemeanors and Felony Arrests Before Your 17th Birthday
If your case was not a felony arrest occurring after your 17th birthday, it will show up on a background check in the following circumstances:
The military has access to juvenile records in all cases, with nearly no limit.7 See FAQ #3 below to learn whether a juvenile record disqualifies you from joining the military.
Government at all levels (local, county, state and federal) considering an employment application have broad access to juvenile records.8 If you are applying or one day may want to apply for positions with police departments, park districts, civil service, prison or fire departments in Illinois, they will know about your juvenile record.
Law enforcement at the local, state and federal level has broad access to juvenile records. So do prosecutors, probation officers and social workers.9
School principals and guidance counselors are notified of juvenile cases involving felonies and firearms.10 These can lead to expulsion, especially in cases involving weapons, but do not necessarily have to. Your school will have specific standards governing this and, depending on the school, there may be a way to prevent suspension or expulsions.
Anyone may access juvenile records for "good cause".11 The law does not define what good cause is, so this is a legal grey area for now.
3. Will a Juvenile Record Disqualify Me From the Military?
Not necessarily. Each branch has its own standards for what juvenile crimes disqualify enlistment. And even offenses that would normally disqualify you from enlisting may be remedied by a "waiver" that allows enlistment despite the criminal background. The Army, Marines, Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force each have separate standards governing this that often change over time. The best way to know is to talk to a recruiter.
4. How Do I Handle a Juvenile Record on Job Applications?
Unfortunately, Illinois law is unclear and contradictory on this question. One part of the law says that expunged juvenile records may not be considered in employment applications within Illinois,12 but other sections of the same law state the exact opposite, explicitly authorizing some employers to consider juvenile records.13
Despite the confusion, a few things about juvenile criminal records and job applications are certain.
First, whatever confidentiality the law provides applies only to employment applications "in" Illinois.
Second, protections only apply to records that have been expunged, which is not always automatic. See FAQ #8 below to learn how juvenile expungements work in Illinois.
Finally, felony arrests that happen after your 17th birthday are reported to the FBI; Illinois expungement has no effect on these records and even private sector employers can find these records with a background check.14
5. Does a Juvenile Record Affect Getting Into College?
Illinois colleges and universities cannot consider juvenile records that have been expunged.15 Again, do not assume your case has been automatically expunged.
Colleges and universities outside of Illinois are not bound by Illinois law. Depending on the state, colleges may be allowed to ask about and consider juvenile arrests and court cases.
6. Does a Juvenile Record Affect Getting Financial Aid for College?
No, it does not affect federal financial aid, unless it is drug-related, and an Adjudicated Delinquency happens after the age of 18. So, if you are arrested at 17 and charged with a juvenile crime, but you don't get "convicted" until you turn 18, it might affect federal financial aid for college.16
7. Can There Be Consequences for Parents Because of Their Child's Juvenile Arrest?
Yes, it is possible. Under Illinois' Parental Responsibility Law, the judge may order parents to pay restitution on their child's behalf or pay their child's probation fees.17
In cases of shoplifting by a minor, the store from which the retail theft took place can force parents to pay a $1000 penalty.18
8. How Does Juvenile Expungement Work in Illinois?
If you were arrested before your 18th birthday but did not have to go to court:
police departments must automatically expunge (expunge means destroy) the record of your arrest if you have not been arrested since then and one year has elapsed since the date of arrest unless you were arrested for a sex crime or any class 2 or higher felony.19
If you were arrested and had to go to court and any one of the following happened:
- dismissal of charges
- found "Not Delinquent"
- successfully completed "Supervision" or
- found guilty or "Delinquent" of a class B or class C misdemeanor or municipal ordinance violation,
your court record and police record will be automatically expunged within 60 business days.20
If you were found "Delinquent" of any offense:
the record will be automatically expunged two years after the case is closed unless it is for a disqualifying offense.21 There are about 70 offenses of these disqualifying offenses that do not get automatically expunged, some of the more common include aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery, robbery and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.
If you qualify for automatic expungement but don't want to wait two years, the judge has the power expedite the expungement.
1. 705 ILCS 405/5-915(8(a)
2. See 705 ILCS 405/5-915(4)(b): "Applications for employment within the State..." [emphasis added]
3. DACA was an immigration policy that allowed people who entered the country illegal as minors relief from deportation and authorization to work.
4. Burdened for Life: The Myth of Juvenile Record Confidentiality and Expungement in Illinois, Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, April 2016: "The Commission found that the informal and illegal sharing of juvenile records is a troublingly common practice in Illinois. Over 60% of stakeholders interviewed for the study reported being aware of instances when juvenile records were shared improperly, either intentionally or inadvertently."
5. 20 ILCS 2630/5
6. Live Scan is an increasingly popular background check method that digitally records your fingerprints and compares them to fingerprints in law enforcement and government records usually yielding results within 48 hours. If you just need to do Live Scan, I've recommended clients to the Live Scan merchant at 210 South Clark Street in Chicago. Although crowded, I am told the line moves quickly.
7. 705 ILCS 405/1-8(A)(6)
8. See generally 705 ILCS 405/5-915
10. 705 ILCS 405/1-8(F)
11. 705 ILCS 405/1-8(A)
12. 705 ILCS 405/5-915(4)(b)
13. See generally, 705 ILCS 405/5-915
14. 20 ILCS 2630/5
15. 705 ILCS 405/5-915(2.6): "once the case is expunged, it shall be treated as if it never occurred..."
16. Judge Kim Clark, What Happens in Juvenile Court, Doesn't Always Stay in Juvenile Court – The Myths and Realities About Juvenile Records and Expungements, Models For Change (July 15, 2010)
17. 705 ILCS 405/5-710(4)
18. 720 ILCS 5/16-27
19. 705 ILCS 405/5-915(0.1)
20. 705 ILCS 405/5-915(0.2)
21. 705 ILCS 405/5-915(0.3)