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How to Seal Your Criminal Record

The CORI law has changed. The new law took effect in May 2012.

Should I Seal My Criminal Record?

  • If you can do it, sealing your record is nearly always a good idea. If your record is sealed and you apply for most jobs or housing, then the sealed record will not appear on your CORI report.
  • Sealing your record will not arouse suspicion or create a "red flag." If all your cases are sealed, the CORI will say "No Adult Criminal Records on File." It will not show that you have sealed records on file. Also, if your cases are sealed, Massachusetts law says you can answer "no record" if an employer asks if you have a criminal record.
  • If you don't seal your record an employer gets to see every charge (convictions, non-convictions, Continued Without Finding (CWOF) and not guilty verdicts).

How Do I Seal My Criminal Records?

There are different ways to seal criminal records, using three different laws:

  1. The first law lets you seal some convictions after a waiting period.
  2. The second law lets you seal some cases where there was no conviction (like dismissed cases, not guilty findings and others).
  3. The third law lets you seal some misdemeanor drug possessions.

Convictions (Guilty Plea Finding or Verdict)

Massachusetts law allows criminal records to be sealed after a waiting period:
Misdemeanors
may be sealed after a waiting period of 5 years.
Felonies may be sealed after a waiting period of 10 years.

Note: In Massachusetts, a misdemeanor is any crime that is punishable by a maximum of 2½ years of incarceration. A felony is a crime that is punishable by more than 2½ years of incarceration (even if your sentence was shorter). The Master Crime List is a guide that shows which crimes are misdemeanors and which are felonies in Massachusetts.

The waiting period to seal each case begins at the "final disposition" of that case.
The final disposition is when the case ended in court or when a person is released from prison - whichever is latest.

  • For instance, if you are sentenced for 5 years with 2 years probation, your waiting period would begin the date you walk out of prison, not the end of your probation (this is a change to the new CORI laws).
  • If you have more than one conviction, the waiting period to seal your record starts with the final disposition of the newest conviction.
  • You cannot seal your CORI (even if 5 or 10 years have passed) if you have been convicted for anything (except for certain minor traffic offenses) in the 5 years before you ask to seal your record. This rule affects people who have more than one conviction on their CORIs.

Example:
If a person was convicted of assault and battery (a misdemeanor) in 1992, then the case could usually be sealed in 1998 or later, since that is 5 years after the final disposition. But if that person was later convicted of disturbing the peace (also a misdemeanor) in 1999, then this newer conviction would start the waiting period all over again. So now that person has to wait until 2004 to seal both the assault and battery conviction and the disturbing the peace conviction.

To seal your record under this law, you need a form called a Petition to Seal. You can print a copy of the form, or call the Office of the Commissioner of Probation at (617) 727-5300 to ask for a copy of the form. There is no fee.

Once your record has been sealed, Massachusetts law allows you to answer "no record" if an employer asks you if you have a criminal record.

Dismissed, Not Guilty, and Other Non-Conviction Cases

You can ask to have your case sealed right away (you do not have to wait) if your case ended with a:

  • Dismissal
  • Not Guilty
  • No Probable Cause
  • "Nolle Prosequi" or "Nol Pros" - The prosecutor does not wish to prosecute the case.
  • NOTE: Continued Without Findings (CWOF) are now treated as non-convictions once probation is complete and the case is dismissed (change is part of the new CORI laws).

If you were on probation you cannot ask a judge to seal your case, even if it was dismissed. Cases with probation have the same waiting periods and sealing process as convictions.

To ask the court to seal your case, you will need to go back to the court where the case was heard. You will need to ask a judge of the court that handled the case to seal the case, and it is up to the judge to decide whether or not to do so.

Example:
If you have a charge at the Roxbury District Court and a charge at the Dedham District Court, you will have to go to each court to seal the records. A list of courts and their addresses and phone numbers is available online. You must go to the Criminal Clerk’s Office at the court to get a Petition to Seal form. Once you get the petition to seal, fill it out and return it to the clerk. The clerk will post your request in the courthouse for seven days. The clerk will also tell you when to come back to the court for a hearing with the judge.

You will have a short hearing before a judge where you can present your case to have your record sealed. At the hearing, you can either explain your case yourself, or you can hire a lawyer to speak for you. Many people go to these hearings without a lawyer and win.

If you will not have a lawyer, you will need to get ready for your hearing. Before the hearing date, prepare a short, three-minute explanation about how the records you are trying to seal have kept you from getting jobs, housing or other services. If you have them, bring rejection letters from jobs and housing to the hearing.

At this hearing, you need to explain your record and try to convince the judge of three things:

  1. That there is a "compelling government interest" in sealing the records (for instance, it benefits the state if you can get a job, housing or other services).
  2. That this compelling government interest is greater than the First Amendment interest of the public to be able to see court records.
  3. That this is in the interest of fairness or substantial justice to seal your record.

You should explain your record. Very briefly, explain what happened when you were charged. If you could show that the charge was false, that could help your case for sealing. Tell the judge how your life has changed since you were in court for this charge. If you have not been involved with the police recently, it is important to tell that to the judge.

In some courts, the judge may want a second hearing, which will be similar to the first one. You will need to present your explanation again.

After the hearing, you will get a letter in the mail with the judge's decision. If you do not hear from the court in seven to ten days, or if you have any questions, contact the Criminal Clerk's Office at the court.

Misdemeanor Drug Possession Offenses

Certain misdemeanor drug possession offenses can be sealed without the five-year waiting period. Courts may seal a conviction for a first offense of possession of a controlled substance. Courts shall seal a first conviction of possession of marijuana or a class E substance. Courts also shall seal a record where a person was found not guilty of possession of a controlled substance, or the case was dismissed or ended with a nolle prosequi (or nol pros). A nolle prosequi is the prosecutor’s statement that she does not wish to prosecute the case.

To seal criminal records under this law, you will need to petition to seal your record at the court where the case was heard. A list of courts and their addresses and phone numbers is available online.

You must go to the Criminal Clerk’s Office at the court to get a Petition to Seal form. It is the same form that is used for sealing dismissed cases, but you need to check the box at the top of the form that applies to drug charges. Once you get the petition to seal, fill it out and return it to the clerk. The clerk will schedule a hearing in your case.

To access more online information such as:

  • Record Requests and Petition to Seal Forms;
  • How to read a criminal record;
  • State hiring laws and restrictions restricting and governing your employment in MA;
  • and List of Courts, Master Crime Lists, Disposition Codes, etc.

Please visit the Mass.gov Website.

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