Need to Know!

Limits on Access to Juvenile Records – Washington State

January 23, 2014 5:58 pm

Washington lawmakers are again considering limits on access to juvenile records.  House Bill 1651 (SB 1651), originally introduced in 2013, has been reintroduced in 2014.

SB 1651 states the “The official juvenile court file of any alleged or proven juvenile offender shall be confidential unless the juvenile has been adjudicated of a sex offense… a serious violent offense as defined in RCW 9.94A.030, arson in the first degree or criminal solicitation of or criminal conspiracy to commit arson in the first degree, assault of a child in the second degree, kidnapping in the second degree, leading organized crime, or malicious placement of an explosive in the first degree….”

“Serious violent offenses” is a subcategory of violent offense and means:

  • Murder in the first degree;
  • Homicide by abuse;
  • Murder in the second degree;
  • Manslaughter in the first degree;
  • Assault in the first degree;
  • Kidnapping in the first degree;
  • Rape in the first degree;
  • Assault of a child in the first degree; or
  • An attempt, criminal solicitation, or
    criminal conspiracy to commit one of these felonies; or
  • Any federal or out-of-state conviction for
    an offense that under the laws of this state would be a felony classified as
    a serious violent offense <as a.

There are at least two existing provisions in Washington law (the RCW’s) that limit landlord and employer access to juvenile records – for tenant and employee screening purposes.

Title 13 – Juvenile Courts and Juvenile Offenders
RCW 13.50.050 – deals with the sealing of juvenile records.  It states that “The court shall not grant any motion to seal records for class A offenses that <are> filed on or after July 1, 1997, unless:

  1. Since the date of release from confinement, including full-time residential treatment, if any, or entry of disposition, the person has spent five consecutive years in the community without committing any offense or crime that subsequently results in adjudication or conviction;
  2. No proceeding is pending against the “moving party” seeking conviction of a juvenile or criminal offense;
  3. No proceeding is pending seeking formation of a diversion agreement with that person;
  4. The person is no longer required to register as a sex offender;
  5. The person has not been convicted of rape in the first degree…; and
  6. Full restitution has been paid.

In other words, this statute allows the court to seal juvenile court records of Class A offenses only after five years when certain conditions are met.  Class B & C, gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor offenses can be sealed after two consecutive years in the community without being convicted of any offense or crime (again after certain other conditions are met).

Chapter 19.182 – Fair Credit Reporting Act

RCW 19.182.040 – is Washington’s Version of Section 605 of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) – which places limits on the content of Consumer Reports (including tenant and employee screening reports).  Unlike the FCRA, RCW 19.182.040 prohibits reporting of juvenile records (of all kinds) once the subject of the report reaches 21 years of age.

This Chapter (RCW 19.182.040(1)(e)) also prohibits reporting of the “…conviction of an adult for a crime that, from date of disposition, release, or parole, antedate the report by more than seven years.  In contrast, the federal FCRA places no limit on reporting of criminal convictions.

Discussion
RCW 13.50.050 – A case can be made that the sealing of juvenile records makes sense when certain conditions are met – after a reasonable period of time and when a single youthful indiscretion might otherwise and unnecessarily follow that person for the rest of their life by appearing in
tenant and employee screening reports. 

SB 1651 – Automatically sealing records that do not fall within the definition of a “serious violent offenses” is another matter and troubling for two reasons.  First of all, it imposes further limits access to the public record.  Secondly, the exceptions cited above do not go far enough.  Where, for example, is robbery, burglary, theft and arson. 

RCW 19.182.040 – Arbitrarily limiting access to Class A offenses once an offender reaches the age of twenty-one was and is a terrible idea.  Assume for example, a juvenile commits a Class A offense (at age 17) – assault in the first degree perhaps.  Assume they are incarcerated until age 21 and released on parole. 

The record would not be sealable under RCW 13.50.050 – and is available in the public record.  Yet since landlords and employers are generally dependent on tenant and employee screening companies for public records data, it may as well have been.  Note that this restriction is likely pre-empted by Section 625(b)(1)(E) of the FCRA which states that “…No requirement or prohibition may be imposed under the laws of any state… with respect to… section 605… relating to information contained in consumer reports….”.  It is unlikely to get another look, however, unless or until disaster strikes or the consumer reporting industry challenges the law in federal court.  Unfortunate!

Conclusion
RCW 13.50.050 – is a thoughtful attempt to protect the interests of juvenile offenders and the community. 
RCW 19.182.040 – is just a bad idea and should be repealed.
SB 1651 – is a problem and should be defeated or amended to include exceptions for additional “serious offenses”. 

Visit Moco Incorporated or MyScreeningReport.com® for more information about the evolving legal and regulatory environment for tenant and employee screening.

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