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Criminal Charges and Convictions
Schools, Law Enforcement Agencies, and Access to Juvenile Records

In New Jersey, juvenile offenses are not called “crimes” and juvenile records are “strictly safeguarded” under state law. Yet, they can still be reported to and used by school officials under certain circumstances. This can have a serious impact on a child’s current or future education. This article explores when schools can access juvenile records and to what extent.

Does law enforcement have to notify a school if a student is charged with an offense?

Law enforcement must report juvenile offense-related information to the principal of the school if:

  • The alleged offense occurred on school property or a school bus or committed against an employee or official of the school;
  • The juvenile was taken into custody as a result of information or evidence provided by school officials; or
  • The offense, if committed by an adult, would constitute a crime and
    • The offense resulted in death or serious bodily injury;
    • Involved an attempt or conspiracy to commit same;
    • Involved the unlawful use or possession of a firearm or other weapon;
    • Involved unlawful manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance or analog;
    • Was committed by a juvenile who acted with a discriminatory purpose; or
    • Constitutes a crime of the first, second, or third degree.

Can a school still access juvenile records if they aren’t notified by law enforcement?

In general, schools can ask for juvenile record information of its enrolled students after an incident occurs or is adjudicated (decided in family court). Upon request, law enforcement or prosecuting agencies may disclose the identity, the offense, and the adjudication or disposition to the principal of the school where the juvenile is enrolled.

Law enforcement may also share information about juveniles who are being investigated. The principal may share this information with faculty to maintain order, safety, or discipline in the school. They may also share information to plan programs relevant to the juvenile’s educational and social development. This information may include specifics, such as:

  • The charged or suspected acts of delinquency
  • The specific type, amount and value of drug found or its whereabouts and its packaging
  • Whether cash was found
  • Whether weapons were found
  • Whether the offense involved or was directed at another enrolled student.

Records of investigations may not be maintained by the school.

Schools can also arrange to automatically receive detailed notice when its students are charged with offenses.

Does a school have to report offenses to law enforcement?

Schools have an obligation to report to law enforcement if:

  • A firearm has been brought unlawfully onto school grounds or a student or another person has committed an offense with or while in possession of a firearm;
  • A student threatens, is planning, or intends to cause death or serious or significant bodily injury to another;
  • A crime involving sexual penetration or criminal sexual conduct has been committed on school grounds or by or against a student; or
  • A bias-related act has been committed or is about to be committed.

Also, schools are required to report to law enforcement when a staff member has reason to believe a violation of drug laws has occurred. Offenses under the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act (CDRA) include:

  • Possession and use
  • Being under the influence
  • Failure to make lawful disposition of illegal drugs obtaining or possessing synthetic cannabinoid and manufacturing
  • Distribution or dispensing.

There are exceptions when the student:

  • Has voluntarily sought treatment or counseling for a substance abuse problem,
  • Participates in that treatment or counseling, and
  • Was not involved in any distribution of drugs.

Schools may, but are not required to, disclose the identity of a student suspected to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Is there any way to avoid having juvenile records shared?

Some agencies may choose to make station house adjustments, rather than charge a juvenile. Station house adjustments allow law enforcement agencies to set immediate consequences, such as community service or restitution, in minor juvenile matters. This is a discretionary tool to avoid the creation of a formal delinquency record. Since charges are not filed and records are not created, schools are generally not notified of station house adjustments.

Also, it is law enforcement policy when a student is taken into custody on school grounds to try to “minimize the disruption of the school environment.” This means arrests should be conducted in private (e.g., principal’s office), using plainclothes officers in unmarked police vehicles, no sirens or flashing lights, and minimal officer presence.

Further Education

No school should have access to a student’s records other than the school in which the student is enrolled. There is no restriction, however, on other schools or colleges asking about arrests or adjudications of delinquency. Remember, a juvenile being taken into custody after an alleged offense is not considered an “arrest” and an adjudication of delinquency is not a “conviction.”

In New Jersey, juvenile records may be expunged with the same general protections as adult criminal record expungement. In many cases, an entire record of juvenile adjudications of delinquency can be expunged after an “offense-free” period of three years after discharge from custody or supervision.

To learn more about juvenile record or adult criminal record expungement, contact LSNJLAWSM, LSNJ’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888- LSNJ-LAW. You may also use our free self-help tools and resources at Clearing Your Record Online.​​​​​​

4/2/2018