Juveniles, More than Delinquent
Posted by Bryant Chavez
Most people are under the mistaken impression that their juvenile court proceedings won’t hold them back. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case in Illinois. While there are several mechanisms in place to help juvenile offenders, there are still pitfalls in the law forcing juveniles into harsh circumstances.
In Illinois, you become an adult at age 17. The law states that “Except…(exceptions)…, no minor who was under 17 years of age at the time of the alleged offense may be prosecuted under the criminal laws of this State.” [705 405/5-120] That is not to say that juveniles may exist outside the law. There are still juvenile proceedings for alleged offenders, but rather than being convicted they are found “delinquent.” Delinquent juveniles may be sentenced by judges for their offenses, but delinquency does not qualify as a conviction and may be expunged eventually. Sounds good, right?
Well, the problem comes with those listed exceptions. Most of the exceptions are for severe cases. For example, a 16 year old accused of first degree murder may be prosecuted for that offense like an adult. However, there is one exception that allows for any minor alleged to have violated a municipal or county ordinance to be prosecuted and punished under Illinois statutes. The idea behind this exception is likely to make sure that juveniles still have to pay fines for petty offenses, like parking tickets.
Unfortunately, this broad exception allows for juveniles to be convicted of any ordinance violation, including the criminal convictions the law is designed to protect juveniles from. An arrestable ordinance violation counts as a conviction under Illinois expungement law. There is no exception for juvenile offenders. This means that a person may be prevented from expunging their criminal record because of a small offense they committed as a juvenile.
This is precisely what happened to a client of ours. At twelve years old, he was caught by the police with a small about of cannabis. If he had been charged under the Illinois criminal statute, he would have likely been found delinquent and could expunge the case when he turned 21. Instead, he was prosecuted under the local ordinance for possession, and was therefore convicted. His punishment was simply to pay a fine, so the whole process was likely done with good intentions to protect the kid. But contrary to those intentions, he now has a conviction on his record and may no longer expunge.
He is still eligible to seal, which would be fine for most people. Except in this circumstance it does not, because the client wants to become a police officer and the police are one of the few allowed to see sealed records. Many police departments have automatic denials for any potential officer with a drug conviction. So, because of a small mistake that the client made when he was twelve, he is not able to become a police officer.