What is a juvenile adjudication?

Juveniles in Maine are people under 18 years old. If someone is accused of committing a criminal act when they were a juvenile, the case is heard in juvenile court.  If the juvenile admits the charge or if, after a hearing, the Court finds the juvenile committed the act, the juvenile is "adjudicated." Maine law is clear that a juvenile “adjudication” is not a conviction. This means that if you have a juvenile “adjudication” and are asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime, the answer is no. This is true even if you have served time at Long Creek Youth Development center.


What is the difference between a felony and misdemeanor?

Both felonies and misdemeanors are crimes. In Maine, depending upon the age of the person charged, both felonies and misdemeanors can result in a conviction (for adults) or adjudication (for juveniles). The difference between a felony and misdemeanor is the seriousness of the possible punishment. Maine uses letters to classify the seriousness of a crime.  In Maine, Classes A, B and C charges are felonies. For these classes of crimes, the length of a possible jail/prison sentence for an adult is one year or more:

  • Class A (up to 30 years)

  • Class B (up to 10 years), and

  • Class C (up to 5 years)

In Maine, Classes D and E charges are misdemeanors. That is because the length of the possible jail sentence is less than 1 year:

  • Class D (up to 364 days), and

  • Class E (up to 180 days)

The class of crime an individual is charged with depends how serious the actions are that they are accused of. 

If an individual is charged as a juvenile, the adjudication results in a disposition (sentence). That disposition may include a commitment to Long Creek Youth Development center. A juvenile may receive an indeterminate sentence for any class of crime they are adjudicated of (Classes A – E). An indeterminate sentence means it is not for a set number of months or years. Instead, it is until a juvenile reaches a certain birthday, such as 18.


Where are juveniles charged?

It is possible to be charged in one of three different court systems in Maine. This depends on:

  • What you are accused of doing

  • Where you are accused of doing it, and

  • If you are Native American, whether your tribe has a tribal court system.  If there is a tribal court system, and you are accused of breaking a law (state or tribal law) on tribal land, you can be charged in tribal court.  But, if you are a juvenile charged with a felony (even if the act happened on tribal land), you will be charged in the Maine District Court. 

If a juvenile is accused of breaking a federal law, they can be charged in the U.S. District Court, which is known as federal court.  There are two federal court locations in Maine:

  • Bangor:  it covers Aroostook, Washington, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock, Waldo, Franklin, Somerset and Kennebec counties, and

  • Portland:  it covers York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Oxford, Androscoggin, Lincoln and Knox counties


Is a juvenile record public?

In Maine, whether a juvenile’s record is public depends on the type of charge. Court petitions charging a juvenile with a Class A, B or C crime (felonies) are always open to the public. Court petitions charging juveniles with Class E crimes (misdemeanors) are always closed to the public.  A court petition charging a juvenile with their first Class D crime (misdemeanor) is closed to the public. If a juvenile is charged in court with a second, third or more Class D crime, those court records are public if the incident that resulted in the new charge is from a different time than the juvenile’s first Class D charge.

Even if the court record is closed to the public, under Maine law, the victim can see the court petition, record of hearing and order of adjudication. The victim does not get to take a copy of any documents. Instead, the victim can review the documents at the Court.


Can I ask that my juvenile record be sealed?

If a juvenile has a record that is public, Maine law allows for that juvenile to ask that the juvenile record be sealed. This means kept private. To request that a juvenile record be sealed, the juvenile must petition the Court. The juvenile has to show in the petition to the Court that:

  • At least 3 years have passed since you finished the disposition for that adjudication,

  • Since the date of your disposition, you have not had any new adjudications or convictions (if you are 18 or older when you petition the Court), and

  • You do not have any criminal actions pending against you.

In making its decision, the Court will balance the public’s right to know about a juvenile’s record and the juvenile’s interest in keeping the record private. If the Court does seal the record, court and criminal justice agencies can still access your sealed records. But, other agencies (like housing authorities, possible employers, etc) cannot access the juvenile record. The juvenile can answer any questions about your juvenile history as if your juvenile adjudication never happened.


What are collateral consequences?

If an individual is adjudicated as a juvenile or convicted as an adult of a crime, there may be long-term negative consequences. These are called collateral consequences. This is true even after the individual has served their full disposition as a juvenile or sentence as an adult.  This is because there are many federal and state laws that allow an individual’s criminal history to be considered.

It is important to remember that every state is different.  If the criminal record from outside Maine, the individual needs to understand if a juvenile adjudication is public and/or considered a conviction in the state where the case was decided. If an individual has a Maine criminal record and move out of Maine, they need to know what the state law is where they are moving to when it comes to what a criminal background can and cannot consider.


What future activities can be affected by a juvenile adjudication?

There are many activities that occur throughout adulthood that a juvenile adjudication can have an effect on. Those include:

  • Student loans
  • Subsidized Housing
  • Employment
  • Welfare 
  • Voting
  • Firearms

Collateral Consequences and Student Loans

If a juvenile is planning to go to college, they may need financial aid like a student loan. When applying for a federal student loan, a “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” (FAFSA) is completed. This program is run by the U.S. Department of Education. Federal law says that if you have been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs, you may not be eligible for financial aid. Right now, juvenile adjudications are not convictions, so you do not have to disclose on your FAFSA a juvenile adjudication from Maine. 


Collateral Consequences and Subsidized Housing

Federally assisted housing, such as “public housing” and “Section 8,” follow federal regulations. Federal regulations for these housing programs allow the housing agency to deny admission to an entire household or a specific member of a household if that member has a criminal past.

The criminal past must have happened a “reasonable time” before the household applies for admission to the housing program. The federal regulations do not define “reasonable time,” but the housing agency may have its own definition in its policies.

The types of criminal activity that can be a reason to deny housing assistance are:

  • Drug-related criminal activity,

  • Violent criminal activity, or

  • Other criminal activity that would:

    • threaten the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other tenants, or

    • threaten the health or safety of the housing authority, owner or employees

  • A housing agency will ask adult members of the household applying for admission to disclose any criminal history. It will also require each adult applicant to sign a release of information that the housing agency can send to law enforcement agencies. The law enforcement agencies that will be contacted are those in the state where the housing is located as well as any state in which a household applicant has lived. What the law enforcement agency will disclose to the housing authority depends upon state law about whether a juvenile record is public and whether the release that is signed allows the law enforcement agency to release juvenile records.

    If the housing agency gets a copy of a criminal conviction, and the housing agency intends to deny admission to either the entire household or just the person with the criminal history, it must notify the applicant and the person with the conviction. The housing agency must also send a copy of the record it received to the applicant and the person with the conviction. The applicant has a chance to challenge the accuracy and relevance of the information. Any criminal records received by the housing agency must be kept confidential and must be destroyed by the housing authority.

    If a household member is denied admission because of past criminal activity, they can submit proof of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation will depend on what the criminal activity was. For example:

  • If it is a drug charge, then successfully completing a drug rehabilitation program will be important. 

  • If it is a violent crime, then anger management, no further criminal activity, and a successful probation may all go to prove you are rehabilitated.

If a member of your household is required to be a lifetime registrant under any state’s sex offender registry, that person will be denied admission to federally assisted housing. 

Right now in Maine, juveniles adjudicated of a sex offense do not have to register on Maine’s Sex Offender Registry. However, the law is constantly changing on this issue. In addition, every state has different requirements for who has to register. It is possible that you are adjudicated here in Maine and do not have to register on Maine’s Sex Offender Registry, but if you go on vacation to Florida for more than five days, you would have to register on the Florida Sex Offender Registry. If you have been adjudicated of a sex crime and you plan to leave Maine (even if only for a short time), you should find out if the state you are going to will require you to register on its sex offender registry. 


Collateral Consequences and Employment

Maine is an “employ at will” state. This means that without a contract you do not have a right to a job or to keep your job. It is not illegal for an employer to ask about your criminal history. It is up to your employer to decide if he or she will hire someone with a criminal history.

Some jobs require a professional license or permit or require you to register with a state licensing board or agency. That agency can look for certain kinds of convictions, such as: 

  • Misdemeanor convictions that are directly related to the trade you are applying for a license in, 

  • Misdemeanor convictions for dishonest or false statements, and

  • All felony convictions

  • Remember, juvenile adjudications in Maine are not convictions.  An adult conviction will not automatically keep you from getting your license, permit or registration, but it can be considered. An applicant can prove that he or she has been rehabilitated. The licensing agency is also limited to how far back it can look:

  • 3 years, or

  • 10 years if the profession involves health care or law enforcement

Collateral Consequences and Welfare

There are many different types of welfare programs in Maine and the U.S. Cash assistance for poor families with minor children is known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). There are no federal regulations for TANF.  Instead, each state has its own regulations for TANF. However, federal law allows states to place a lifetime ban on welfare benefits (TANF and Food Stamps) to a person who has been convicted of a drug-related felony.

Maine currently does not have such a ban, but other states do. In Maine, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) can ask TANF recipients who have a drug-related felony conviction between 1996 and present to take a drug test. If you refuse, you can be denied TANF. If your drug test comes back positive, DHHS can require you to be in a drug treatment program if you want to keep getting TANF. If you refuse drug treatment services, your entire family can be cut off of TANF. It is important to know that DHHS cannot require you to take a drug test if you do not have a felony-related drug conviction from 1996 to present.


Collateral Consequences and Voting

Some states do not allow convicted felons to vote in elections.  Maine is not one of those states. You can still vote in Maine if you have a felony conviction. But, if you move to another state, you may not be able to vote if you have a felony conviction.  Remember, a juvenile adjudication in Maine is not a conviction.


Collateral Consequences and Firearms

There is a federal law called the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968.  It includes automatic prohibitions from possessing a firearm and ammunition. Two provisions that automatically prohibit you from possessing a firearm and/or ammunition for life are:

  • An indictment or conviction of a felony, or

  • A conviction for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence

A “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” must include in the state’s definition of the crime the use of or attempted use of physical force or threatened use of a deadly weapon. 

Remember, a juvenile adjudication is not a conviction.  


Considerations by the Court if you are charged as an adult

When a Court orders a sentence, it can look at your past criminal history.  If you have a juvenile record in Maine and you are charged with a crime as an adult, the Court can look at Class A, B and C juvenile adjudications against you. All juvenile adjudications for misdemeanors (Class D and E crimes) cannot be considered by the Court.  


Talk to your former attorney

This article only addresses some of the problems you may face if you have a juvenile or adult criminal background.  To learn more about a particular situation you may be facing, you should contact the criminal attorney who represented you.