In many states, juvenile records are sealed automatically and immediately. These laws allow a minor who has committed criminal or delinquent acts, to erase his record permanently, usually at the age of 17 or 18. The idea is to allow the youth offender to enter adulthood with a "clean slate," shielding him from the negative effects of having a criminal record.
Be sure to check the laws in your state or talk to an attorney for details on expunging or sealing juvenile records in your state.
For juveniles, court and arrest records are usually sealed automatically once a juvenile is arrested and a trial or "adjudication" begins. However, in most states, juveniles must file a written application to later have their records expunged or destroyed.
So, if the laws in your state don't allow for the destruction of the records, they may be unsealed in certain circumstances. For example, if the person arrested or convicted applies for a professional license (like a license to practice medicine or law), or if he's later charged with committing a crime. Your state laws should explain in detail when, how, and by whom sealed records may be unsealed.
You should be aware that the federal government doesn't have to honor the expungement, nor does an expungement of a conviction necessarily relieve a person from having to disclose it in an application for public office or on some professional license applications.
For example, in most states:
Each state has its own definition of expungement, based on different rules and laws. Some states may not use the term "expungement," but rather use terms like "expunction," "removal," or "destruction" of criminal records. And even if the term "expungement" is used, the records may not completely "disappear" and may still be available to law enforcement.
Check the laws of your state to see if and when expungement is available and what happens to your criminal records. If you have any questions, talk to an experienced criminal law attorney.