Decision Leaves It Easier to Seal Juvenile Records

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OLYMPIA (AP) — Young offenders will continue to have an easier time sealing their juvenile court records under a decision Thursday by the Washington Supreme Court.

In a 7-2 decision, the court affirmed a lower court ruling that former juvenile offenders do not have to meet complicated requirements known as "Ishikawa factors" in order to seal the records.

Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu said leaving juvenile records open to the public forever, except in limited circumstances, was inconsistent with the rehabilitation goals of the juvenile justice system.

Yu wrote that sealing juvenile records would prevent unnecessary denials of housing, employment and educational opportunities for former juvenile offenders, and prevent exacerbation of racial disparities in the juvenile justice system.

Child advocates said the decision will allow thousands of former juvenile offenders each year to build new lives.

"If young people are going to be able to move on with their lives and become productive members of society, they need to be unshackled from mistakes made as youth, as is the case almost everywhere else in the nation," said Casey Trupin, attorney for the Children and Youth Project at Columbia Legal Services.

The Ishikawa factors are difficult to meet, and would result in only a few people who can afford costly attorneys being able to get juvenile records sealed, Trupin said.

Columbia Legal Services submitted a brief showing few people would get their juvenile records sealed if the court required a higher threshold, Trupin said.

The case began in 2008, when a person identified in the opinion as S.J.C. pleaded guilty to two counts of fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation for offenses he committed at age 13. 

The juvenile court ordered two years of community supervision and imposed other conditions such as regular school attendance, sexual deviancy treatment and payment of a penalty assessment.

After completing all his conditions, S.J.C. moved in 2011 to vacate his sentence and seal his juvenile record. The state opposed his motion to seal the records, saying that was not justified under an Ishikawa analysis.

But the juvenile court granted the motion, and the state then asked the Supreme Court to review the case.

Seven justices voted to affirm the lower court.

Justice Debra Stephens dissented, contending the majority "misreads the statute."

"I would recognize that juvenile records are court records fully subject to the presumption of openness," Stephens wrote.

 

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