Washington Court Upholds Sealing Juvenile Court Records


A sweeping decision by a majority of justices on the Washington state Supreme Court allows the automatic sealing of tens of thousands of state juvenile-court records without public challenge or judicial review, the Seattle Times reports. Justice Mary Yu was joined by six other justices in upholding a decision sealing the criminal record of a youth identified as “S.J.C.” Yu rejected arguments by open-records and media attorneys that access to the records was guaranteed by the state constitution. The ruling, she said, is in keeping with historical trends in Washington and the evolution of juvenile-justice laws nationwide.

It affirms the constitutionality of changes in juvenile-justice access laws passed by the state legislature last year. That law presumes juvenile records will be sealed once a young offender meets statutory requirements, such as not having any additional offenses for two years and paying restitution. Yu wrote that leaving juvenile records open to scrutiny forever “is detrimental to the rehabilitative purpose of juvenile courts and does not enhance the competing concerns of public safety and accountability.” Kathy George, an attorney for the Washington Coalition for Open Government and the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, said the ruling means that “courts don't have to balance the public interest in these cases anymore.” She added: “This ruling and the new statute automatically increase secrecy in the juvenile-court system. This does not bode well. It will make it very hard for the public to oversee the juvenile court system.”

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