Juvenile Law: Common Misconceptions

Juvenile Law: Common Misconceptions

When you hear “juvenile law”, you probably think about delinquency cases. However, in the state of Maryland, juvenile law refers to three types of cases seen in the courts:

  1. Delinquency
  2. Children in need of assistance
  3. Children in need of supervision

Out of the three types of juvenile cases seen in the Juvenile Court system, there are the most misconceptions surrounding delinquency.

Common misconception: If you have a juvenile offense, your record is automatically cleaned once you turn 18.

If you have a juvenile offense, your records are not automatically cleared when you turn 18 years old. However, you do have a few options that you can pursue.

  • Sealed records
  • Expungement

Sealed records

Sealed records are not the same thing as expungement. Sealing does not make the conviction “go away”, but it does prohibit the public from accessing the police report and the court records. According to the Maryland Second Chance Act of 2015, not all convictions are eligible for being sealed. In fact, only certain minor misdemeanor convictions are eligible for sealing. Sometimes you might see this referred to as “shielding”, but shielding and sealing are the same. Records can only be sealed for up to twelve misdemeanors, and they must be non-violent misdemeanors. Examples of misdemeanors eligible for sealing include:

  • Property destruction
  • Prostitution
  • Possession of a controlled substance


In the state of Maryland, expunged records are not physically destroyed. They are, however, not visible to the public eye; they are hidden records. They do no show up on background checks. Expungement will also allow the individual to respond with “no arrests” on job applications. These records may only be opened in court with a court order.

There is a longer waiting period associated with expungement than with sealing. Records that are eligible for expungement have a waiting period of 10 years, starting after the individual has completed his or her sentencing. Examples of misdemeanors that may be expunged include:

  • Drug possession
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Prostitution

However, on October 1, 2018, the state of Maryland made a change to include burglary, theft, and drug trafficking as crimes eligible for expungement. These crimes carry a 15-year waiting period that begins when the original sentencing has been completed. There are many criteria and procedures to follow when seeking expungement. For instance, if an additional crime is committed during the waiting period (either the 10-year or 15-year waiting period).

Common misconception: Juvenile offenses will always show up on your background check.

You’ve probably been warned about your “permanent record”, and you might want to know if your child will always have a mark on his record. Will a juvenile offense always show up on a background check? Yes and no. Usually, after 7 years, you won’t see a charge, but an employer can go as far back as he or she would like into your background. So in that sense, unless a record is sealed or expunged, a potential employer may be able to see the offense.

Common misconception: Juvenile offenses will always be heard in the Juvenile Court.

On the outside, it makes sense that a child (any individual under 18 years of age) would have his or her case handled in the Juvenile Court system. However, not all cases are handled in the Juvenile Court system. Many cases, especially the misdemeanors, are heard in Juvenile Court. However, crimes that are not just a misdemeanor may be heard in the adult court. Examples of crimes that would be handled in an adult court (regardless of the age of the individual) are:

  • Murder
  • Armed robbery
  • Kidnappings
  • Sexual Offenses

A juvenile may also be tried in an adult court if she or he is a repeat offender, she or he is an older child (i.e. closer to 18 years of age), and prior rehab has not been successful in preventing additional crimes. Remember, the goal of the Juvenile Court system to rehabilitate (rather than punish) so if the rehabilitation is not working, the courts are more likely to handle the court in the adult court system instead.

Common misconception: Juveniles cannot be charged with a felony.

Can a juvenile be charged with a felony? Yes! In fact, according to a special report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, juveniles were more likely (64%) to be charged with a violent felony than adults (24%) were to be charged with a violent felony. The special report also indicated that jail or prison time was listed as the most serious penalty upon sentencing.

How many juveniles charged with a felony received jail time? Of the juveniles who were charged with a felony, 66% of them were convicted and received prison or jail time with an average sentence of 90 months, or seven and half years.

Speak to a Lawyer

As you can see, there are many misconceptions regarding juvenile law, particularly delinquency. Delinquency can be a complex aspect of juvenile law with many conditions to consider and terms to learn. Being charged as a juvenile is extremely serious as it can affect your child’s future. If your child has been charged with a crime, your child will benefit from an experienced criminal defense lawyer who is known in juvenile law. Don’t let your child face a criminal charge without the assistance of a criminal defense attorney experienced in the Maryland Juvenile Court system.

Secure the services of criminal defense lawyer Jaimee C. McDowell today.