Local News

Should Private Juvenile Crime Records Be Public Record?

Posted September 25, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— It's a battle between protecting the juvenile and protecting the community, a fight between the right to privacy and the right to know. A system that protects juveniles by keeping their past criminal records confidential was not a problem when those crimes were not serious.

But as more and more juvenile crimes are serious, many wonder if it's time to at least let police officers see a juvenile's criminal history.

Murderers, drug dealers, and rapists. They're all juveniles behind bars, all kids committing adult crimes. But, once they get out, no one will know what they served time for, not even law enforcement officers. That's the law.

James Williams, now 17, is serving time for second degree murder. Williams says the group he hung around was always in trouble with the law.

"We was young," Williams says. "We still were children, you know. At the time I was still a child. I became a man in here. When I was in that world, I was still a child."

Children whose past run-ins with police remain secret. District Court Judge Micheal Morgan hears juvenile cases every week in Wake County. Over the past two years, Morgan has seen a huge increase in violent juvenile crimes. He sees benefits in opening juvenile records.

"Law enforcement, by and large, would be more empowered and more capable to protect themselves as well as society and innocent citizens in terms of having more information at their disposal," Morgan believes.

Both accused killers Kevin and Tilman Golphin had prior records. We don't know what they are. Marcia Morey with the Governor's Commission on Juvenile Crime says that raises some important questions.

"Is it important to open up records?" asks Morey. "Could those officers have checked their computer printout if there had been a serious violent juvenile offender? That is one of the questions and issues that we'll be focusing on."

The Department of Justice just completed a study of the confidentiality of juvenile records. Many states are looking to open up more. No official move has been made yet in North Carolina.