What are New York's laws on the confidentiality of juvenile records?

Understanding the Confidentiality of Juvenile Records in New York

The state of New York has specific laws governing the confidentiality of juvenile records, reflecting the principle that young people should not have their futures compromised by mistakes made in their youth. This article explores the nuances of these laws and how they apply to juvenile records.

Confidentiality and Sealing of Juvenile Records

In New York, juvenile records are generally confidential, meaning they are not available to the public. This includes records pertaining to cases handled by the Family Court, which deals with matters involving individuals under the age of 18 who have been accused of committing acts that would constitute a crime if committed by an adult.

Under New York law, most juvenile delinquency records can be sealed. This means that the records are not destroyed but are kept under restricted access. Sealing typically occurs automatically for certain cases when the individual reaches the age of 16 or 17, depending on the severity of the act and provided that no subsequent crimes have been committed. However, some offenses are considered too serious for automatic sealing, such as those involving violence or sex crimes.

Access to Sealed Records

While sealed, juvenile records are not accessible to the general public but may be viewed by certain agencies or individuals under limited circumstances. For example, law enforcement agencies may have access to these records for investigative purposes or when required by court order. Additionally, if a juvenile applies for a job within law enforcement or with certain governmental agencies, their sealed records might be subject to review.

Exceptions and Disclosures

New York's laws allow for specific exceptions where juvenile records may be disclosed. If a juvenile is a candidate for foster care or adoption, their records can be accessed as part of a background check. Juvenile records may also be disclosed during sentencing in adult criminal proceedings if they provide relevant information about the person's criminal history.

Cases Involving Youthful Offender Status

New York also provides a special status known as 'Youthful Offender' (YO) status. This is granted at the discretion of the court and offers additional protections for privacy. If YO status is granted, the conviction is replaced with a YO finding, which is not considered a criminal conviction and does not carry the lasting stigma associated with one. Records related to a YO adjudication are automatically sealed and treated with a higher level of confidentiality.

Historical Reference: The Case for Confidentiality

The push for confidentiality in juvenile records has historical roots dating back to the Progressive Era when reformers sought to establish a separate justice system for juveniles—one that would emphasize rehabilitation over punishment. The idea was that young offenders should be given the opportunity to reform without the burden of a permanent criminal record affecting their chances for education, employment, and other life opportunities.


New York's laws on juvenile record confidentiality reflect an ongoing commitment to rehabilitate young offenders rather than punish them in perpetuity. By sealing juvenile records and providing certain protections like Youthful Offender status, New York aims to give young individuals a chance at redemption and integration into society without being hindered by past transgressions.