There is Little Juvenile Court Confidentiality if You Want to Be a Lawyer in Indiana

The Indiana State Board of Bar Examiners 2014 application for the bar examination requires the applicant to answer the following question:

“Have you ever been adjudicated delinquent in a juvenile court? Include matters that have been dismissed, subject to a diversion or deferred prosecution program, or otherwise set aside. Do not report any arrest or conviction that has been expunged by a court pursuant to Ind. Code § 35-38-9.”

The question is confusing, in the opinion of this juvenile defense attorney.  The first sentence refers to adjudications, but the second sentence refers to cases that would not result in an adjudication in Indiana.  If the case is dismissed or is handled through a myriad of diversion programs, such as a lecture and release, referral to community resources, or an informal adjustment, there is no adjudication.  Often, there is no record of any action at all by the juvenile court for these deferrals or diversions because no case was initiated in the juvenile court.  In addition, the question refers to expungements pursuant to Ind. Code § 35-38-9, which applies to expunging criminal convictions.  There is no mention of the juvenile record expungement statute at Ind. Code § 31-39-8.

Finally, the legislature has established confidentiality guidelines for juvenile court records.  In general, a person’s juvenile record is shielded from public view.  However, the records of the juvenile court are available without a court order to the public whenever a petition has been filed alleging that a child is a delinquent as the result of any of the following alleged acts or combination of alleged acts: (1) murder or a felony if committed by an adult, (2) an aggregate of two unrelated acts that would be misdemeanors if committed by an adult if the child is at least twelve years old when the acts were committed, or (3) an aggregate of five unrelated acts that would be misdemeanors if committed by an adult if the child is less than twelve years of age when the acts were committed.  I.C. 31-39-2-8.

Therefore, if a child has committed as few as one act that would be a misdemeanor offense if committed by an adult or any number of status offenses, that child’s record is shielded from public disclosure.

Given the choice about juvenile record confidentiality by the Indiana General Assembly and the developing research and case law concerning child development, is it necessary for these very minor juvenile court involvements — or any juvenile court involvement at all — to be disclosed to the State Board of Bar Examiners in order to prove that an applicant meets the character and fitness requirements to be a lawyer in Indiana?

As reference, an application for a medical doctor license asks no questions about a juvenile record.

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