When Can Juvenile Records Be Released? When Are They Sealed?
Access to juvenile proceedings and law enforcement records involving juveniles is controlled by the Colorado Children’s Code Records and Information Act, C.R.S. 19-1-301, et. sec. The legislative declaration to the act states that the statutes attempt to balance the presumption that records of public agencies are open, with the needs of public safety on the one hand and the concern for the privacy of children and their families who may be stigmatized by the dissemination of this information on the other. The result is a set of statutes that curtails to some degree public access to information about proceedings in juvenile delinquency.
Like adult criminal court proceedings, juvenile court hearings generally are open to the public and press. However, the Colorado Children’s Code gives the court the authority to close juvenile proceedings upon a finding that it is in the best interest of the child or the community, 19-1-106, C.R.S. In practice, it is extremely unusual for the courts to close courtrooms. In a handful of instances where the nature of the allegations are extremely personal or embarrassing, the juvenile magistrate has ordered the press to view proceedings from an observation room separated from the courtroom by a glass partition. Reporters can still see and hear the proceedings, but the parties do not have the same sense of being watched.
Access to court records of delinquency proceeding is far more limited. As a rule, law enforcement reports involving juveniles, including arrest and criminal records, are closed unless a juvenile is being prosecuted as an adult, or is charged with a class 1, 2, 3, 4 felony offense or an offense involving a weapon, 19-1-304, C.R.S.
When a juvenile falls into one of these exceptions to the general rule, the following information can be released:
- Information reporting the arrest and filing of charges
- The agency filing the charges
- The date and place of the arrest and filing of charges
- The accused’s name, gender, date of birth, and last known address
- The accused’s physical description
- The nature of the charges
- The disposition of the charges
The statute is very specific that no other information about the case shall be made available. Further, reports on psychological or intelligence testing are confidential and will not be released.
Courts have some authority to make exceptions and grant greater access to juvenile records. Section 19-1-304(1)(b), states that “With consent of the court, records of court proceedings in delinquency cases may be inspected by any other person having a legitimate interest in the proceedings.” Neither the code nor case law provides a definition of who is an interested party, and local judges have not been asked to address the issue in recent memory.