Skip to content

VIII. Proceedings involving minors

Posts

  • California

    California courts have declined to recognize a First Amendment-based right of public access to juvenile court proceedings and records. See San Bernardino County Dep’t of Public Social Servs. v. Superior Court, 232 Cal. App. 3d 188, 205, 283 Cal. Rptr. 332 (1991). However, the California Welfare & Institutions Code provides a qualified statutory right of access, which the Legislature intended to encourage press coverage of juvenile proceedings. Brian W. v. Superior Court, 20 Cal. 3d 618, 623, 574 P.2d 788, 143 Cal. Rptr. 717 (1978) (discussing Welf. & Inst. Code § 676). Juvenile court judges have discretion to allow public and press access to particular proceedings or records on a case-by-case basis. In re A.L., 224 Cal. App. 4th 354, 358, 168 Cal. Rptr. 3d 589 (2014). See also Appendix 1, Trial Court Records Manual, available at www.courts.ca.gov/documents/trial-court-records-manual.pdf (providing a complete list of court proceedings and records designated confidential by statute or rule).

    view more
  • District of Columbia

    Juvenile proceedings are closed to the public. Journalists may be admitted by applying to the presiding judge. The D.C. Superior Court Rules Governing Juvenile Proceedings specifically provide that “the general public shall be excluded from judicial hearings concerning juvenile delinquency or persons in need of supervision.” Super. Ct. Juv. R. 53(a)(1); see also D.C. Code § 16-2316(e). Nonetheless, “a person having a proper interest in a particular case or in the work of the Family Court may be admitted,” Super Ct. Juv. R. 53(a)(1), and “[a]ny authorized representative of the news media” are among the persons who “shall be deemed to have a proper interest in the work of the Family Court, and shall be admissible to Family Court proceedings after filling out an application pursuant to” Rule 53(a)(1). See Super. Ct. Juv. R. 53(a)(3). Among other things, the applicant is required to state that he or she “will refrain from divulging information identifying the respondent or members of the respondent’s family or any other child involved in the proceedings.” Id. at 53(a)(1).

    Interpreting these rules in In re J.D.C., 594 A.2d 70 (D.C. 1991), the D.C. Court of Appeals directed that all media be excluded from proceedings in the trial of a juvenile charged in a shooting death, where the juvenile had already been identified in an article in The Wall Street Journal. The court held that the admission of the press at juvenile proceedings was a “discretionary” determination for the trial court. Id. at 75. In particular, the court explained: “[I]f there is no reasonable assurance that the admission of the press will be consistent with the protection of a juvenile respondent’s anonymity, then exclusion may be the only alternative which will not compromise the legislature’s paramount aim.” Id.

    The general rule excluding the public from family-division proceedings may apply even when the family division performs a civil-division function.  In Morgan v. Foretich, for example, the D.C. Court of Appeals held that the presumption of access does not apply to civil contempt hearings in family-division cases.  521 A.2d 248 (D.C. 1987).

    view more
  • Georgia

    Georgia has a long tradition of permissive public access to juvenile proceedings, beginning with a 1984 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court. In Florida Publ’g Co. v. Morgan, 253 Ga. 467 (1984), the Court concluded that:

    consistent with the Constitution, the state may create a rule that delinquency, deprivation, and unruliness hearings in juvenile court are presumed closed to the public (and press). However, for constitutional reasons, this presumption cannot be conclusive. The public and/or press must be given an opportunity to show that the state’s or juveniles’ interest in a closed hearing is not “overriding” or “compelling.”

    We, therefore, hold that where a member of the public or press institutes a judicial proceeding to require the opening of a juvenile hearing, the court must in an expeditious manner give the public or press an opportunity to present evidence and argument to show that the state’s or juveniles’ interest in a closed hearing is overridden by the public’s interest in a public hearing. The juvenile court’s ruling on this question must be composed of “findings in writing articulate enough for appellate review.”

    Id. at 472.

    Effective 2014, the state promulgated a new juvenile code, comprehensively rewriting many of the former code’s provisions, including those pertaining to public access. See O.C.G.A. §§ 15-11-700–15-11-710. The new code affords a presumptive statutory right of public access to dependency proceedings, O.C.G.A. § 15-11-700, and records, O.C.G.A. § 15-11-704(b).

    view more
  • Idaho

    Certain proceedings involving minors are closed by statute or rule.  For instance, all proceedings under the Child Protective Act—those involving allegations of abuse, abandonment, neglect or homelessness of a child (I.C. § 16-1610(1)(b))—are closed and all records are sealed to protect the minor children at issue.

    view more
  • Indiana

    The opening and closing of proceedings involving minors implicate important interests. See Taylor v. State, 438 N.E.2d 275, 280 (Ind. 1982) (“The state’s interest in preserving the anonymity of juvenile offenders is one which the United States Supreme Court has characterized as ‘a matter of its own policy in the administration of criminal justice.’”) (quoting Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 319 (1974)).

    The juvenile court determines whether juvenile proceedings are closed to the public. Ind. Code § 31-32-6-2. Upon motion, the court may close proceedings during a child witness or victim’s testimony if the court finds that an allegation or a defense involves matters of a sexual nature and that closing the proceeding is necessary to protect the child’s welfare. Ind. Code § 31-32-6-4. There are also circumstances under which the court may close the proceeding during the testimony of a health care provider or counselor. See Ind. Code § 31-32-6-4(b), (c); Phelps v. State, 969 N.E.2d 1009, 1017–18 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012) (holding that the question of whether the juvenile proceedings should have remained open was a moot question). Indiana Code Section 31-32-6-5 provides factors for the court to consider when deciding whether closing a proceeding is necessary to protect the welfare of the child. But proceedings in juvenile court involving adults charged with contempt of court or criminal charges must be tried in open court. Ind. Code § 31-32-6-4-1.

    The general rule is that all juvenile court records are confidential, except as provided under Indiana Code Chapter 31-39-2. Ind. Code § 31-39-1-2. For example, there are circumstances in which a juvenile court may grant a school access to juvenile court records. Ind. Code § 31-39-2-13.8; see also Edelen v. State, 947 N.E.2d 1024, 1031 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011) (holding that a transcript of a juvenile’s testimony was admissible in the juvenile’s subsequent prosecution for perjury).

    view more
  • Kentucky

    Under Kentucky law, there are numerous types of court proceedings which could involve minors as parties, witnesses, or victims.  Public access to such proceedings and court records generally depends on the type of proceeding.

    view more
  • Mississippi

    In Mississippi, records involving children “shall not be disclosed . . . except pursuant to an order of the youth court specifying the person or persons to whom the records may be disclosed, the extent of the records which may be disclosed and the purpose of the disclosure.” Miss. Code Ann. § 43-21-261. Disclosure of such records is limited to situations in which the youth court determines that disclosure would advance the child’s best interest, public safety, or the functioning of the youth court; and such disclosure is limited to certain persons, enumerated by statute. Id.

    view more
  • Montana

    Records of dependent/neglect and youth court proceedings involving a youth in need of care or supervision are closed.

    view more
  • Nebraska

    Nebraska law does not generally close juvenile court proceedings to the public, but does restrict access to various records relating to juvenile proceedings. However, hearings concerning a juvenile court petition alleging that the juvenile is mentally ill and dangerous are closed to the public, except at the request of the juvenile or the juvenile’s parents. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-277.01 (Reissue 2016).

    Generally, information in juvenile court files other than pleadings, orders, decrees and judgments is confidential. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-2,108(3) (Reissue 2016). Various governmental agencies, but not the public, may obtain confidential records from a juvenile court file if ordered by the presiding judge. Id.

    When a juvenile has been cited or taken into custody but was (1) released without a juvenile petition or criminal complaint having been filed; (2) offered juvenile pretrial diversion; (3) subject to certain types of juvenile adjudication; (4) charged with misdemeanor marijuana or paraphernalia possession; or (5) charged with another misdemeanor or infraction, the juvenile may request that records, including court records, be sealed if the juvenile successfully completed probation, supervision, or a rehabilitation program under the Juvenile Code. The court may order the records sealed if it finds that the juvenile has been rehabilitated to a satisfactory degree. Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 43-2,108.01 through 2,108.05 (Reissue 2016).

    view more
  • Oklahoma

    In World Publishing Co. v. White, 2001 OK 48, 32 P.3d 835, the court resolved the issue of access to certain juvenile records on statutory grounds and said that it did not need to address any constitutionally-based arguments for access.  The court did note that “the First Amendment does not guarantee a presumption of openness and access to juvenile proceedings and the records generated pursuant thereto.” However, citing Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 607 (1982), the court said that “an across–the–board ban on access to juvenile proceedings poses a substantial constitutional issue.”  Thus, at present, whether proceedings involving minors are open to the public is generally governed by statute, and the results are mixed.  For example, a proceeding to determine whether a child is “deprived” and whether parental rights should be terminated is generally held in private and the transcript of the proceedings is not available to the public. Okla. Stat. tit. 10A, § 1–4–503.  The same is true with respect to proceedings to determine whether a juvenile is “delinquent.” Okla. Stat. tit. 10A, § 2–2–402.  On the other hand, if a juvenile is certified to stand trial as an adult for specified criminal offenses, the proceedings and records are open to the public.  See World Publishing Co. v. White, 2001 OK 48, 32 P.3d 835 (commenting on “the erosion of the confidential status of juvenile records enjoyed historically”).  Okla. Stat. tit. 10A, § 2–6–102(A) provides that juvenile records are confidential, but § 2–6–102(C) enumerates a number of exceptions.

    view more
  • Oregon

    Because of the robust access provisions provided by the Oregon Constitution, juvenile proceedings are open to the public and the media. See generally, State ex rel Oregonian Pub. Co. v. Deiz, 289 Or. 277, 613 P.2d 23 (1980) (striking down as invalid under the Oregon Constitution a statute that allowed judges to exclude the press from juvenile court proceedings). However, camera access may not be allowed in juvenile proceedings. See infra section XI.

    In general, records of juvenile proceedings are not available. In Oregon, juveniles are not “arrested,” but are taken into custody. Thus, the provisions of ORS 192.345(3) allowing for disclosure of arrest records do not apply to juveniles. In addition, juvenile court records are governed by ORS 419A.255, which makes those records confidential and privileged but allows copies to be provided to attorneys of the child. See also Oregonian Publ'g Co., LLC v. Waller, 253 Or. App. 123, 132, 293 P.3d 1046, 1051 (2012) (observing that the legislature did not intend to require public access to juvenile court records by extending the Oregon Public Records Law to court records generally).

    view more
  • Pennsylvania

    Although “juvenile proceedings have traditionally been closed to the public in most jurisdictions,” the Pennsylvania Superior Court has held that the “constitutional presumption of openness applies to juvenile dependency matters.” In re M.B., 819 A.2d 59, 61 (Pa. Super. 2003); see In re J.B., 39 A.3d 421, 434 (Pa. Super. 2012) (recognizing that the same presumption applies to delinquency proceedings). But juvenile proceedings may be closed “to prevent parties’ embarrassment and protect privacy interests.” Id. at 63 (citing R.W. v. Hampe, 626 A.2d 1218, 1222 (Pa. Super. 1993)). For example, in In re J.B., the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the press from a juvenile delinquency proceeding. See 39 A.3d at 434. In doing so, the Superior Court reasoned that there was a compelling interest in protecting the privacy and psychological development of the child – who was under twelve years of age when the underlying criminal offense took place – and that no less restrictive means were available to serve those interests. See In re J.B., 39 A.3d at 432-34. The Superior Court has also held that “protecting minors from the trauma and embarrassment of testifying in public is, in and of itself, a compelling state interest under a First Amendment analysis.” In re M.B., 819 A.2d at 64 (citing Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 607-08 (1982)); see also Hampe, 626 A.2d at 1222 (recognizing “the salutary reasons of protecting the privacy interests of minors”).

    Despite these holdings, Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act provides detailed rules on when juvenile hearings and records may be closed. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6336. Under that Act, juvenile hearings in Pennsylvania are closed unless the hearing is:

    1.     To declare a person in contempt of court.

    2.     Pursuant to a petition alleging delinquency where the child was 14 years old or older at the time of the alleged conduct and the alleged conduct would be felony if done by adult.

    3.     Pursuant to a petition alleging delinquency where the child was 12 years old at the time of the alleged conduct and the alleged conduct is: murder, voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, arson, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, kidnapping, rape, robbery, or attempt to commit or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing.

    Even if those circumstances are present, the proceedings may be closed to the extent of any agreement between the child and the attorney for the Commonwealth. § 6336(d), (e).

    Notwithstanding the above, the court may admit “any other person . . . [with] a proper interest in the proceeding . . . .” § 6336(d). The comments to the statute confirm that the court may, in its discretion, admit members of the media into hearings that would otherwise be closed to the general public. See § 6336 cmt. If the media has access to these hearings, it should be allowed to publish whatever is learned at the hearings; an order to the contrary would constitute a prior restraint. Nevertheless, the notes to the statute state: “This section as drawn permits the court in its discretion to admit news reporters. This is frequently done with the understanding that the identity of the cases observed will not be published, a procedure generally satisfactory to the news media.”

    In In re J.B., an intervenor brought a facial constitutional challenge to the closure provisions of the Juvenile Act under the Pennsylvania Constitution. In re J.B., 39 A.3d at 436. The Superior Court rejected that challenge, holding that the intervenor failed to provide any “meaningful discussion of, or citation to, relevant legal authority” in support of its argument. Id. at 437. The court then held that the challenged provisions were not facially unconstitutional because they did not provide for a blanket closure rule. Instead, they allow the court, in its discretion, to admit members of the media into a hearing. See id. (citing § 6336 cmt.).

    In addition, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted a policy governing access to case records, including criminal case records. See 204 Pa. Code § 213.81. Under that policy certain categories of documents and information are deemed confidential, including:

    • minors’ names and dates of birth, except when a minor is charged as a defendant in a criminal matter;
    • minors’ educational records;
    • medical/psychological records;
    • children and youth services’ records; and
    • information to which access is otherwise restricted by federal law, state law, or state court rule.
    view more
  • Virginia

    Reports and records of minors who appear before the juvenile and domestic relations (“JDR”) courts are subject to a variety of confidentiality protections, with clearly delineated exceptions as to when such information can be made public. See Va. Code § 16.1-305 (confidentiality of court records); Va. Code § 16.1-300 (confidentiality of Department of Juvenile Justice records); Va. Code § 16.1-309.1 (exceptions as to confidentiality); but see In re Richmond Newspapers, Inc., 14 Va. Cir. 227, 233, 1988 WL 619412, *5, 1988 WL 619412, at *5 (Richmond Cir. Ct. Dec. 15, 1988) (holding that “a blanket prohibition against disclosure of juvenile court records is inappropriate.”).

    view more
  • West Virginia

    The West Virginia Supreme Court has held it is “essential that certain aspects of a juvenile criminal investigation not become public” to achieve the goal of rehabbing a juvenile who has committed a crime. Ogden Newspapers, Inc. v. City of Williamstown, 192 W. Va. 648, 654, 453 S.E.2d 631, 637 (1994).

    “Because of the sensitive nature of crimes involving juveniles and the central role confidentiality plays in a juvenile's rehabilitation, the scale generally tips in favor of confidentiality rather than disclosure of juvenile law enforcement records.” 192 W. Va. at 654.  “[West Virginia] recognizes a compelling public policy of protecting the confidentiality of juvenile information in all court proceedings.”  State ex rel. Garden State Newspapers, Inc. v. Hoke, 205 W. Va. 611, 613, 520 S.E.2d 186, 188 (1999).

    The West Virginia Supreme Court has created a helpful guide on West Virginia Juvenile Law and Procedure that includes a discussion of juvenile proceedings and records.  The guide states:

    “Although court records are generally open for public inspection, records of juvenile proceedings are not public. Juvenile court records shall not be disclosed to anyone unless the disclosure is otherwise authorized by law.” W.Va. Code § 49-5-101; W.Va. Code § 49-5-103; W.Va. Code § 49-5-104; Rule 49, Rules of Juvenile Procedure, http://www.courtswv.gov/public-resources/CAN/juvenile-law-procedure/juvenile-law-procedure.html.

    Juvenile hearings are also closed to the public. Rule 10, Rules of Juvenile Procedure, http://www.courtswv.gov/legal-community/court-rules/juvenile-procedure/juvenile-rules1-26.html#rule10.

    view more