Automatic sealing of charges with NOT GUILTY verdicts

Earlier this year, the Supreme Judicial Court held in Commonwealth v. J.F. that criminal charges that resulted in “not guilty” verdicts or findings of no probable cause can be sealed without consideration of the statutory waiting period set in G.L. c. 276 § 100C nor with the “good cause” requirement described in Commonwealth v. Pon. The SJC ruled that the law requires the immediate and automatic sealing of the court record.

Earlier this week, I received a notice from the Trial Court of the Probation Commissioner’s intention to seal a client’s record following his acquittal. The notice gives instructions for people who DO NOT want their record to be sealed on how to prevent this from happening. Lawyers are being instructed to forward these notices to their clients when possible. These notices just started going out. This is the first one that I have received and it is for a client who was acquitted in June of 2023, my most recent “not guilty” verdict. I assume the probation department has started with the most recent cases and is moving back in time.

There are limited circumstances where a person who has been acquitted would want the court record to stay unsealed. Anyone who believes that they may be subject to an FBI background check may want the record to remain unsealed because FBI background checks shows both arrest and court information. If the court records are sealed, the background check would only show the arrest and not the verdict. A non-citizen who may at some point be subject to immigration proceedings would want to be able to show that they were acquitted of the charge. People seeking high-level security clearances that would require an FBI background check would also want the case to remain unsealed. A typical record check by an employer or landlord would not be done by the FBI, so a sealed record would  be advantageous.

As a general rule, if you are a citizen and not in need of high-level security clearance, do nothing and let the record be sealed. If you are a non-citizen or otherwise likely to be subject to an FBI background check, consider requesting that the record remain unsealed.

If you would like to prevent your record of acquittal from being sealed, you do not need to wait to hear from the trial court or your lawyer. Go to and fill out the form for requesting not to seal your criminal record. You will need the docket number and case information, so contact the court where you had the trial or your former lawyer to get that information.

To be clear, it is possible to unseal a record if you ever find yourself in need of the record. I have done it for clients. But that is a process that you may be able to avoid if the record remains unsealed.

This automatic sealing only applies to NOT GUILTY verdicts and no probable cause determinations. Dismissals by the Commonwealth (nolle prosses) are still subject to the same rules as before. For example, if the witness to your trial did not appear to testify, the prosecution most likely entered a “nolle prosse” to your case or the judge dismissed it for failure to prosecute. These records are not subject to automatic sealing. For those cases, take a look at Sealing Your Criminal Record. 

If you have any questions about sealing, please call the clerk’s office or your former lawyer. If you would like to ask me questions, you will need to hire me for the consultation unless you are a former client. Sorry, I get a lot of calls about my posts and they are time consuming.