Process for Sealing or Expunging Adult Criminal Records in Massachusetts

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The process for getting a criminal record expunged in Massachusetts is complex and rarely succeeds; sealing is somewhat more common. The Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) is maintained by Massachusetts Criminal History Systems Board (CHSB) as a result of an arraignment. There are ways to reduce the impact of a CORI on daily life. In any case, removing an offense from your CORI requires getting a court order. An experienced criminal record expungement lawyer Massachusetts may help ensure the best chances of getting your record sealed or expunged.

Getting the CORI Right: If you are considering seeking a record expungement, first obtain a copy of your CORI. If you have been through a criminal background check, you may (much like a credit report) ask the agency to provide you a copy of your criminal record. You can also request it directly from the CHSB (contact information is provided below).The CHSB charges $25.00 to provide a CORI, or file an affidavit of indigency to waive the fee.

Next, check the CORI for any errors. There is some information that is not allowed to even exist on your CORI, including some non-conviction information. If you don’t understand how to read it, either consult an attorney or review the website link included below. Follow the instructions to the page with disposition codes on it, entitled “How to Read a BOP.” You may call CHB’s legal services division for basic assistance and information: 617/660-4760. If you believe there are any errors on your report, or open cases that should be reported closed, contact the Office of the Commissioner of Probation at 617/727-5300.

Criminal History Systems Board
200 Arlington Street
Suite 2200
Chelsea, MA 02150

Process in Court: There are three different processes for sealing your record based on your eligibility, as described in the previous article

  1. Case was dismissed: you were found not guilty or your case ended without a conviction in another manner (e.g. – with a “no probable cause” finding or a dismissal “nolle prosequi”), then the process for sealing your record involves going straight to the court where your case was heard and asking the judge to seal the case. Get a Petition to Seal from the relevant criminal court clerk’s office. After filling out the petition (following the details in the next section of this article), return it to the clerk. There will be a hearing scheduled before the judge. You will briefly explain how a CORI has harmed your life, and why that harm is great enough to justify eliminating any need to allow viewing of the CORI. After the hearing, the judge will mail a decision, usually within 1-2 weeks. Remember, if you were on probation, then you must follow the normal requirements for waiting periods (10 years for felonies, 5 years for misdemeanors).
  2. Unusual Cases:If your case does not fit into #1, AND you have waited the required 10-year felony or 5-year misdemeanor periods, then you can apply for sealing as long as:
    • you have not had any other convictions on your record in the intervening time period.

    But your process is different: you should follow the instructions in the next section on “The Petition to Seal,” but be sure you get a copy of the form directly from online or the Office of the Commissioner of Probation, and mail it in — do not submit it to the clerk’s office.

  3. Misdemeanor drug possession cases: are possible exceptions to the 10- or 5-year waiting period. First offenses for drug possession in general may always be sealed immediately, at the judge’s discretion. If that first offense is for marijuana possession, or a class E substance, then the judge will seal the record upon a proper application. Similarly, if the charges were dismissed or nol prossed, or a finding of not guilty, the judge will seal your record upon a proper application. Go to the clerk’s office and follow all the procedures described in #1, and be sure that on your Petition to Seal, you “check the box” indicating that you are requesting sealing for a drug charge.

The Petition to Seal: You select one of four affidavits on the petition’s main page. For adult cases, you’ll select the appropriate categories under Section 100A – Chapter 276. For juvenile record sealing, you’ll be selecting box #2 or #3, next to which is this statement:

“To the best of my knowledge:

a) All of my court appearance and court disposition records, including court supervision, probation, or sentence for any misdemeanor occurred not less than five years prior to this request; b) that my court appearance and court disposition records, including termination of court supervision, probation or sentence for any felony occurred not less than ten years prior to this request; c) that I have not been found guilty of any criminal offense within the commonwealth in the last ten years preceding such request, except motor vehicle offenses in which the penalty does not exceed a fine of fifty dollars; d) I have not been convicted of any criminal offense in any other state, United States possession or in a court of federal jurisdiction, except such motor vehicle offenses as aforesaid, and have not been imprisoned under sentence or committed as a delinquent in any other state or country within the preceding ten years; and e) my record does not include convictions of offenses other than those to which the section applies, or convictions for violations of sections one hundred and twenty-one to one hundred thirty one H, inclusive, of chapter one hundred and forty or for violations of chapter two hundred and sixty eight or chapter two hundred and sixty-eight A.”

Recent CORI reform in August, 2010, means changes until the year 2012 in the precise wording of forms. Even if you start this process with one of the court clerks remember that is only to acquire information for yourself. Only the Commissioner takes petitions to seal, not clerks or judges. If you meet these requirements and properly submit the application, the Commissioner will seal the record.

What Gets Sealed: If the Commissioner directs your record sealed, all relevant parts of the record are sealed away:

  1. Index cards are removed and placed with other case papers
  2. Copy of the docket and date of record sealing is placed with other case papers
  3. Case papers are placed in a sealed envelope with your name, the docket number of the cases, and the words “Records Sealed …Month, Date, Year” on the front of the envelope.
  4. A sealed records index must be kept, arranged by defendant’s name and docket number, and is unavailable for public use.
  5. Sealed records can only be used for limited reasons (described elsewhere in this FreeAdvice expungement/sealing article series).

While none of the above is your responsibility, your follow-up can make sure it gets done, and stays done. Note: once your record is sealed, neither you nor your attorney should have further access to it.

Governor’s Pardon: To receive a Massachusetts’s Governor’s pardon, a petition is filed with the Parole Board, acting as the Advisory Board of Pardons— the Parole Board acts as gatekeeper to the Governor. You may be eligible for a pardon: (a) 10 years after conviction or release for felonies, OR (b) 5 years after conviction or sentencing for misdemeanors. A governor’s pardon “eradicates” the conviction. The pardon is almost identical to sealing, but the pardoned offense can still be used against you in any future cases to help determine sentencing and bail. Contact the Parole Board for more information on preparing for the Parole Board hearing, where the process takes up to and six months. Note: roughly 100 pardon applications are filed annually, and on average less than 5 are granted.

For other articles on Massachusetts expungement of criminal records, click on the following:

Overview of Massachusetts Criminal History Record Sealing/Expungements

Eligibility for Sealing/Expunging Adult Criminal records in Massachusetts

Sealing/Expunging Juvenile Criminal Records in Massachusetts

Process for Expunging/Sealing Juvenile Criminal Records in Massachusetts

Do I Need an Attorney to Seal/Expunge My Criminal Record in Massachusetts?

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