How to Look Up a Teen's Criminal Records

By Beverly Bird - Updated April 28, 2017
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A teenager’s criminal records are generally not available to the public, although the exact rules can vary by state. The law takes the position that minors might not fully comprehend the seriousness of some actions they take, so their crimes shouldn’t necessarily follow them into adulthood and affect their chances to lead productive lives. Depending on your relationship with the teen and why you want the records, you may not be able to access them.

Who Has Access?

The list of who can see a teen’s criminal records is typically short: members of law enforcement or the court system, the child’s school and his parents. His attorney would have access, as would his victim or potential victims.

Some states make an exception if the juvenile’s crime was serious enough that it would have been charged as a felony had he been an adult. They include Virginia, Utah, Missouri, Minnesota, Maryland, Maine, Iowa, Indiana, Idaho, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Oklahoma, Vermont and Washington. Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Colorado make a similar distinction for certain serious crimes committed by a child who is age 12 or older or, in some cases, age 14 or older. These records are often available.

Statutes can change as new legislation is passed, so this list isn’t carved in stone. You can always try to access a teen’s records and if the rules have changed, you’ll simply be denied access. Even states with strict rules may lift them and open records if the juvenile commits an additional offense after turning 18.

Records Can Be Expunged

Adults over the age of 18 can ask the court to expunge their juvenile records when certain requirements are met. The rules for this vary by state as well, but if the request is granted, these adults are under no obligation to tell anyone – including employers or landlords – that they were once arrested or convicted as minors. If the teenager who’s records you’re looking for has since turned 18 and had his juvenile record expunged, you’d find no trace of it.

Charges that would have been felonies had the teen been an adult often fall outside this rule as well, however, and certain jobs, such as those in law enforcement, do require disclosure, even when a record is expunged.

How to Access Records

If you believe you’re entitled to see a teen’s criminal record, you can try to access it on the internet. If the record is open to the public, it should be posted there, just as it would be if he had been tried and convicted as an adult. Most county courthouses have searchable websites for this type of information, and the National Center for State Courts also provides direct links to state government websites.

If you can’t get access this way, pay a personal visit to the courthouse. The clerk will tell you if you have no right to the records, or how to access them if you’re on the list of individuals who are entitled to them according to the rules in your state.

You might also file a motion or petition with the court asking for access if you believe you have a good, justifiable reason, such as that you’re a potential victim.

About the Author

Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.

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