The Supreme Court has not recognized a right of access to juvenile proceedings or records. In an early case, In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 25 (1967), the Court found that “[t]here is no reason why, consistently with due process, a state cannot … provide … for the confidentiality of records of police contacts and court action relating to juveniles.” Jurisdictions vary widely in allowing access to juvenile delinquency proceedings. However, the Third Circuit suggested that under some circumstances “an across-the-board ban on access to juvenile proceedings …would pose a substantial constitutional issue.” U.S. v. A.D., 28 F.3d 1353, 1358 (3rd Cir. 1994).
Delinquency hearings are presumptively "open to the public, and no person may be excluded except upon special order of the court." Fla. Stat. § 985.035(1). The statute also specifically provides that, except as provided in subsection (1), "nothing in this statute shall prohibit the publication of proceedings in a hearing." § 985.035(2). However, the court, in its discretion, "may close any hearing to the public when the public interest and the welfare of the child are best served by so doing." Fla. Stat. § 985.035(1).
Juvenile court records are closed to inspection except in limited circumstances. Fla. Stat. § 985.045(2). See also Fla.R. Jud. Admin. 2.420(d)(1)(B)(xvii)(effective October 1, 2010 and noting that clerks must automatically seal delinquency records). The child, parents, guardians, or legal custodians of the child, and a variety of law enforcement agencies, may inspect the court records. Id. Otherwise, a court order is necessary in which the court finds that the person requesting access has “a proper interest” in the requested records. Id. There is a limited right of access for the compilation of statistical information for authorized representatives of recognized organizations, such as the media. Id. See also Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 91-32 (1991) (allowing access to a newspaper of general circulation under a similar provision of another such statute). Typically, orders allowing access for such research purposes will provide that identifying information be redacted.
A law enforcement agency may release for publication the "name, photograph, address, and crime or arrest report" of a child taken into custody "for a violation of law which, if committed by an adult, would be a felony." Fla. Stat. § 985.04(2)(a). The law enforcement agency may also reveal the identity of a child "found by a court to have committed three or more violations of law which, if committed by an adult, would be misdemeanors." Fla. Stat. § 985.04(2)(b). The statute provides that law enforcement agencies may not use age as the sole reason for denying access to the record of a juvenile felony or three-time misdemeanor offender. Fla. Stat. § 985.04(2). Law enforcement agencies should release such juvenile offender records, unless some other justifiable reason exists for keeping the record confidential.
The law enforcement agency is not confined to release of the name, photograph, and address of the juvenile, but also may release other background information regarding the offense or arrest. Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 94-91 (1994). See also Fla. Stat. § 985.04(2) (releasable information includes the crime or arrest report of the child). Further, law enforcement records which "have been transmitted to and are in the hands of a criminal justice agency such as the Department of Juvenile Justice" also may be released. Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 94-91 (1994). The only information that remains non-public are those law enforcement records of juveniles arrested for a felony prior to October 1, 1994. Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 95-19 (1995).
If the juvenile has committed some other delinquent act, which, if committed by an adult, would be a crime but not a felony, the record is confidential and only will be released to specified, interested agencies, certain relatives, and upon order of the court. Fla. Stat. § 985.04(1) (information obtained by the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Parole Commission, the Department of Corrections, circuit juvenile justice boards, any law enforcement agent or any licensed professional community agency participating in the assessment or treatment of a juvenile is confidential). However, reporters wishing to obtain generalized information for research purposes should be aware that there is a conditional, limited right of access in this provision for the compilation of statistical information in this statute as well. See Fla. Stat. § 985.04(7)(a).