Public Access to Juvenile Court: Questions & Answers

Why did access to Juvenile Court change?
H.B. 90 was passed during the 2004 Legislative Session. The bill is intended to expand public access to Juvenile Court to encourage public participation in child welfare proceedings statewide.

Is this a permanent change in Juvenile Court access?
Yes. As of July 1, 2004, the access in all of Utah's Juvenile Courts will become more open.

What cases will I have access to?
Abuse, neglect, and dependency cases are considered open to the public, unless a motion is made to deny access. Protective order proceedings will be open as well.

Has anything changed in regards to juvenile delinquency cases or adoption proceedings?
The access change only applies to child welfare cases. Adoption proceedings will remain closed to the public.

(Delinquency Cases Statute: In delinquency cases in which the minor charged is 14 years of age or older, the court shall admit any person unless the hearing is closed by the court upon findings on the record for good cause if the minor has been charged with an offense that would be a felony or A or B misdemeanor if committed by an adult or if the minor is charged with an offense that would be a class A or B misdemeanor if committed by an adult and the minor has been previously charged with an offense that would be a misdemeanor or felony if committed by an adult.)

Will I need to identify myself at the proceeding?
The judge will ask all persons in the courtroom to identify themselves verbally or in writing.

What are the grounds for closing a hearing?
There are three primary reasons that a hearing will be closed: if it's in the best interest of the child; if having others in the courtroom will impair the fact-finding process; or if it is otherwise contrary to the interest of justice. The final reason will be determined at judicial discretion. An example would be overcrowding of the courtroom or unruly observers.

Who can ask for a proceeding to be closed?
Any party to the proceeding or judge can ask that a proceeding be closed. The judge will determine if one of three factors (listed above) exist to close the proceeding.

How can I protest the closing of a hearing?
A person denied access to a proceeding can file a petition with the Utah State Court of Appeals, however, proceedings cannot be stayed pending the appeal.

Can media obtain an audiotape of any open proceeding?
Media can request an audio recording of the proceeding, however, clerks must be allowed a reasonable amount of time to comply with the request.

Will court files and court documents from proceedings be open to the public?
Access to Juvenile Court pleadings and files does not change as of July 1, 2004. (Rule 4-202.03. of the Code of Judicial Administration governs records access.) One can submit a motion for a copy of a legal file when the file is not placed under seal and is not part of a proceeding. A form is available to petition a record; however, just cause must be given. A legal file includes information such as petitions, legal pleadings, motions, judge's order, etc.

Social files remain protected and will not be open. A social file includes such things as psychological evaluations, documentation of treatment, etc.

What information can I release on the family or child involved in a public proceeding?
Media are asked to comply with the current policy of not releasing identifying information of any child(ren) or family involved.

What is being done to protect children in the proceedings?
-Reporters are strongly encouraged not to reveal the identity of the child or family.
-Proceedings may be closed upon appropriate showing.

What other states have public access to Juvenile Court?
Oregon is open. The states that are presumed open are as follows: Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas.