A criminal conviction has negative consequences long after the court process is over. A criminal record can limit employment opportunities, housing options, educational opportunities, the ability to obtain student financial aid, and professional licensing. Many schools prohibit parents with criminal records from volunteering at their child’s school. In certain circumstances, criminal records in Massachusetts can be sealed. It can be difficult to navigate the court system so it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can review your options.
What is Sealing?
In Massachusetts, once a person is arraigned on a criminal charge (which involves appearing before a judge, having the charge(s) read out in open court, and entering a plea of “not guilty” or “guilty”), she will have an entry in her CORI (“Criminal Offender Record Information.”) Even if the charges are later dismissed or a jury finds the defendant not guilty, there is a remaining entry in one’s CORI. Massachusetts state law allows records to be sealed even if the result was a conviction. This means that the record still exists but would not show up on a standard CORI check nor would there be any indication on your CORI of the existence of a sealed record. Only certain entities, such as law enforcement, will be alerted that there is a sealed record but most employers would not have access to that information.
Sealing Records By Mail (Criminal Convictions and Non-Convictions That Are Over 5/10 Years Old)
If enough time has passed since you were last in court or in jail on a particular case, the process for sealing is very straightforward and is done by mailing a Petition to Seal to the Commissioner of Probation. If you were arraigned on a misdemeanor charge and the charge was dismissed, you were found not guilty, you received a continuance without a finding (CWOF) or you were convicted (found guilty), you may seal the CORI entry if more than five years have passed since the date of the conviction or the date of release from the House of Correction if a sentence was imposed (including a revocation of probation). The start date for the 5 year waiting period is whichever event (conviction or release from custody) happened later. If you were arraigned on a felony charge, the waiting period is ten years from the time of the last appearance in court or release from custody. If the required time period has passed, you can petition to seal the CORI entry by submitting a Petition to Seal to the Commissioner of Probation. You generally do not need a lawyer for this process unless you are confused as to whether you have met the five- or ten-year time requirement. The calculation of the five- and ten-year wait period gets more complicated if you have had additional convictions following the resolution of the case that you would like to seal. You need to be conviction-free for five years for a misdemeanor or ten years for a felony to seal the record. To be clear, the court does not have jurisdiction to seal criminal convictions; the courts only can seal entries under very limited circumstances that are discussed below. A criminal conviction can only be done by mail through the Commissioner of Probation providing that the requisite time period has passed.
There are some exceptions to the 5 and 10 year rule. A Violation of a Restraining Order or Violation of Harassment Prevention Order, while both misdemeanor charges, require a 10 year waiting period to be sealed. Sex offenses have a 15 years waiting period but certain sex offense cannot be sealed if the offender is or has ever been classified as a Level 2 or Level 3 Sex Offender. Other convictions that can’t be sealed are: certain firearms offenses, like selling ammunition or a gun without a firearms license, or buying a gun from an unlicensed dealer; “crimes against the public,” like resisting arrest, perjury, witness intimidation, or aiding escape from jail; and State Ethics Act violations like bribes to public officials. These prohibitions against sealing only apply to convictions. If the charges were dismissed, nolle prossed, or resulted in “not guilty” findings, they are eligible for sealing.
Sealing Records in Court (Non-Convictions Less Than 5/10 Years Old)
Courts has the authority to seal CORI records of cases that have ended with dismissal, nolle prosse, and not guilty findings in addition to first time drug possession convictions after probation has been completed and the probationer was never found in violation of probation even if the 5 or 10 year waiting period has not finished. Here an experienced criminal defense attorney is recommended to establish that leaving the record open puts you at risk of harm and that your interest in sealing the record is greater than the public’s first amendment right to see the record. The judge can seal your record if there is finding of good cause to seal the record.
Contact us Today to Speak With an Experienced Cambridge Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are in need of legal assistance with sealing your criminal record, please contact The Law Offices of Keren Goldenberg, by calling 978-221-2503 to contact our Lowell office or 617-431-2701 to reach our Belmont office and speak with an experienced and dedicated criminal defense attorney.