Are juvenile records always closed to the public?

Open Records Law

Q: Are juvenile records always closed to the public?

A: No. Juvenile records are open to the public when a juvenile is tried in adult criminal court and under certain circumstances when a juvenile is tried in juvenile court. It is important to note, moreover, that “for purposes of investigating or prosecuting a person who is alleged to have violated any state or federal criminal law or any civil law or municipal ordinance, ‘adult’ means a person who has attained 17 years of age.” Sec. 938.02(1), Stats.

When a juvenile is tried in adult criminal court, all court files and proceedings are open to the public (as they are in all adult criminal cases), and the criminal defendant may be identified regardless of age.

Juvenile court proceedings, however, are usually closed to the public. The public may gain access to juvenile court proceedings in two circumstances: a) When a juvenile who has previously been adjudicated delinquent (and that judgment remains of record and unreversed) is alleged to have committed a crime that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult, and b) when a juvenile is alleged to have committed a serious felony described in section 938.34(4h)(a), Stats. Access to juvenile court records is allowed only by order of the juvenile court. Sec. 938.396(2)(a), Stats.

Journalists, however, may gain access to juvenile hearings that are closed to the public, on condition that they safeguard the identity of the juvenile. See sec. 938.299(1)(a), Stats.; State ex rel. E.R. v. Flynn, 88 Wis. 2d 37, 276 N.W.2d 313 (Ct. App. 1979). Journalists also are allowed access to law enforcement records concerning juveniles on the same condition. Sec. 938.396(1), Stats.

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