A Mere Youthful Indiscretion? Reexamining the Policy of Expunging Juvenile Delinquency Records

Recent studies by the U.S. Department of Justice have found that, while adult violent crime rates continue to drop, today’s juvenile offenders are the fastest growing segment among violent criminals. The unprecedented increase in juvenile criminality is expected to result in a dramatic increase in the overall rate of violent crime as these juveniles approach majority. Funk argues that most states have not adapted to the troubling reality that the juvenile offenders of today are not the hubcap-stealing youths of days gone by, and that chronic adult criminality is predicated on violent and repeated acts of juvenile delinquency. These jurisdictions retain statutory provisions that allow for, or mandate, the expungement of juvenile crime records once the juvenile reaches a certain age. This policy’s stated goal is to allow the juvenile offender to enter adulthood with a “clean slate,” thereby shielding him from the negative effects of having a criminal record. The author conducts an exhaustive analysis and critique of this policy, examining its philosophical origins, the “rehabilitative ideal” on which it is premised, and its theoretical and practical impact. He argues that even if one accepts the notion that those who have committed a juvenile indiscretion will outgrow their reckless behavior, it remains necessary to differentiate between those who in fact can be rehabilitated and those whose rehabilitative potential is negligible, a task not accomplished by most contemporary expungement statutes.