Wiping the record clean

BY DANIEL SEIDL | APRIL 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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A past mistake doesn’t always have to last a lifetime.

Johnson County’s first Juvenile Records Sealing Day aimed to give people a second chance by sealing their juvenile records.

“A lot of people don’t even know what the law is,” said Johnson County County Attorney Janet Lyness, an organizer of the event. “They assume once they turn 18, that their records will be sealed automatically.”

The event, which took place last week, gave people a chance to erase juvenile misdemeanor charges from their records. Iowa law does not immediately seal the records of its juveniles, as some states do. Instead, individuals must approach the court.

In 2012, roughly 19,800 complaints were filed against juveniles in Iowa — a number which was down more than 2,000 from the previous year.

And last Friday, roughly 10 people signed up for this years sealing day, with several walk-ins throughout the day as well.

“We had as many in just one day as we had all of last year,” Lyness said. “It’s at least a start.”

Having a juvenile criminal record can cause many problems, said Johnson County Social Services Director Lynette Jacoby, another organizer of the event.

“More so than ever, employers and colleges are looking at individuals’ backgrounds as they apply for different opportunities in life,” she said.

She noted that not having their records sealed could put people from Iowa at a disadvantage to residents of other states, where records are automatically sealed.

Drake University Law Professor Robert Rigg agreed.

“It’s vital that people try to get those records sealed,” he said. “If they don’t, that information’s going to turn up. That’s going to affect a number of things for them, including employability.”

To qualify for getting a record sealed, the applicants must be 18 or older and they must have no felony, aggravated misdemeanor, or serious misdemeanor charges. Additionally, two years must have passed since the end of their probation, and the charge must have occurred in Johnson County.
The main purpose of this year’s event was to raise awareness of the juvenile laws in Iowa, Jacoby said.

“In other states, they tend to keep juvenile records confidential,” she said. “This year was really about educating the community.”

Rigg said juvenile record laws are decided on a state-by-state basis.

“Each state’s free to adopt its own statute,” he said. “The Iowa legislature has chosen to go down this path. [Personally] I don’t think that’s wise.”

Iowa lawmakers tend to take a more conservative approach to criminal legislation, he said.

“In part, it’s probably because Iowa tends to be...a little bit more … aggressive in regards to any kind of criminal activity,” he said. “Those records tend to be more exposed.”

While the event was an opportunity for people to get their records sealed, this can be done at any point in the year.

Iowa is behind other states in updating juvenile law, Jacoby said.

“I think Iowa just hasn’t kept up with the advent of the Internet and changes in technology,” she said. “For the most part, the majority of states realize that teens shouldn’t be treated like adults.”

This year’s event was just the first of many, and Jacoby said she eventually wants to get the legislation regarding juvenile records in Iowa changed.

“We’re hoping that it continues to grow, but our overall long-term goal is to change the Iowa Code so that juvenile offenses...aren’t public record at all.” she said. “We’ll continue to build awareness and educate the community.”

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