Nobody’s perfect; if you’ve been charged with a crime, the charge, regardless of the outcome of the case, is likely a part of your criminal record, known in Massachusetts as your CORI (criminal offender record information). Such information is routinely used by prospective employers and landlords; if you have a criminal record, you may be disqualified for jobs or housing, despite your credentials.

Thankfully, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has made it easier for individuals to have their criminal records sealed. Before getting into an overview of the process of sealing one’s record, it’s important to make a few key distinctions. First, sealing is different from expungement; the latter, in effect an erasure of your record, is not available in Massachusetts. Instead, when your case is sealed, a prospective employer who has requested your CORI report will see that you have no record. There are exceptions to this rule; sealed cased ARE visible to criminal justice agencies, such as police, probation, and courts, and certain State agencies such as the Department of Early Education, DCF and DYS. Sealing only applies to criminal cases, instances in which you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, not civil actions such as restraining orders. Finally, sealing only applies to your court and/or probation records; it has no effect on the underlying police report, which remains public information, though this is not included in a CORI.

Sealing Procedure

The method by which you may seal your criminal record depends on how your case was resolved:

If you were NOT convicted (found not guilty, case dismissed, acquitted, continued without a finding) then you may petition the court directly to have the case sealed. The mere fact that you were not convicted is not enough to justify a sealing of the record; instead you must show “good cause,” namely that the presence of the criminal charge on your record would cause you “specific harm.” Such harm could include you being disadvantaged in applying for jobs or housing. It is also important to show the court that you have made significant lifestyle changes since you were charged with the crime, such as drug treatment, anger management, etc. You may begin the sealing process at the conclusion of your case by filing a Petition to Seal Record [PDF] with the court, along with supporting documentation. A judge will review your Petition and either deny it or schedule a hearing. At the hearing, you (or your attorney) will make an oral argument supporting your particular “good cause” for sealing the record. The judge will then rule by completing a Findings and Order of Court on Petition to Seal Record(s) [PDF] form. Review this form before beginning the process; it enumerates the specific factors the judge will consider and thus should serve as a template for your “good cause” argument. Appeals are permitted. Finally, it is worth noting that these procedures also apply to individuals who WERE convicted of first time drug possession but who have otherwise complied with court orders.

If you WERE convicted (found guilty), then the procedure for sealing you records is different, namely you must wait before petitioning to seal. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor, you must wait five years and if you were convicted of a felony, you must wait ten years. The clock starts ticking on the latter of either: a) the date you were found guilty (if you were not sentenced to prison), or b) the date you were released from incarceration. Post-conviction probation does not affect these times. If you are convicted of any other crime during the 5 or 10 year wait period, the clock is reset; subsequent non-convictions have no effect on the wait periods. After the requisite time has elapsed, you must submit your Petition [PDF] to the Office of the Commissioner of Probation. Thanks to recent changes at the Probation Department, the wait time for these petitions to be processed has been reduced from months to days. The Commissioner of Probation will also entertain petitions from individuals who have been convicted of a offense that has since been decriminalized, such as the possession of under 1 oz. of marijuana; in such cases, there is no waiting period.

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Regardless of your particular circumstances, it is advisable to have an attorney’s assistance when attempting to seal your records. If you are looking to seal your criminal record, contact me now; I will help you prepare and make your strongest argument so that you can get back to your life!