Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in Massachusetts
What’s the difference between expunging and sealing your criminal record?
An expungement means that your criminal record is destroyed. It is not accessible to the court or other government agencies. Massachusetts revised their expungement laws in 2018. There are more cases that are eligible for expungement than previously. Expunging your record is different from sealing your criminal record. A sealing restricts who has access to your record. Most employers can’t see the record once it is sealed. In order to do either, you need to qualify and follow a strict procedure.
Can you expunge your criminal record?
There are two types of expungement:
- Time-based expungements;
Allows expungements after a certain period of time; and,
- Non-time-based expungements
Where your criminal record was produced unfairly.
To get a time-based expungement, you must meet several criteria:
- The offense charged happened before your 21st birthday;
- The criminal charge is the only one on your record, except for minor motor vehicle violations;
- There are no open criminal investigations against you;
- The offense didn’t result in death or serious bodily injury;
Also, you didn’t intend to cause death or serious bodily injury;
- You weren’t armed at the time of the offense;
- The offense wasn’t committed against an elderly or disabled person;
- It wasn’t a sex offense;
- It’s not an OUI;
- It’s not a firearms violation;
- It’s not a violation of a restraining order;
- It isn’t an assault and battery on a family or household member (domestic violence); and,
- It isn’t a felony violation of Chapter 265, which lists offenses against the person.
If you clear all those hurdles, you can expunge your record. You can expunge misdemeanors once three years have passed since completing all parts of your sentence. You can expunge felonies after seven years have passed since completing all parts of your sentence.
The other way to expunge your record is based on mistakes, fraud or outdated laws. These expungements are rare. You’re basically saying to the Court that if you were charged now for the same offense, and everything was handled properly, you wouldn’t be convicted. The following situations qualify:
- Someone else used your identity;
- The offense is no longer a crime;
Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana;
- Errors committed by;
- Fraud was perpetrated upon the Court.
There is no waiting period for this type of expungement.
Sealing criminal record
Sealing your record is different from expunging it. Evidence of your record is not destroyed as it is after an expungement. A sealing simply limits who has access to your criminal record. Most employers, landlords and others won’t be able to see your record if they do a CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) check. Once your record is sealed, you can truthfully answer that you have no criminal record.
Expunging records of non-citizens
If you’re not a citizen of the United States, you should consult with an immigration attorney before you expunge your record. If your record is expunged it is physically destroyed. However, an entry of your case may remain on some federal data bases. If you are applying for citizenship, that entry could cause you trouble. You may need to show that your case was resolved favorably. You may do so with a certified copy of your record, but you must get that copy before your case is expunged. But again, consult with an immigration attorney.
Can I get my criminal record sealed in Massachusetts?
You must qualify under the statute in order to get your criminal record sealed. The qualifications vary depending on whether you were convicted or not. A conviction is when your case ends with a guilty finding. It could be that you pled guilty or you were found guilty after a trial. In either case, you have been convicted. You don’t need to go to jail in order to be considered convicted.
If you were convicted of:
- A felony – where you could be sent to a state prison rather than a house of correction. You can seal your record after seven years of when you were found guilty or released from jail, whichever is later.
- A misdemeanor – where the maximum penalty for the crime charged was 2 ½ years in a house of correction. You can seal your record after three years of when you were found guilty or released from jail, whichever is later.
Who can see a sealed record?
Most people and agencies can’t see a criminal record once it’s sealed. There are some exceptions, including:
- The Department of Early Education and Care ;
They screen day care applicants;
- The Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Youth Services (DYS);
They can see sealed records of those applying to become foster parents or to adopt children;
- Criminal justice agencies;
How to seal a criminal record in Massachusetts
There are two ways to seal a criminal record in Massachusetts:
- By mail; and,
- In person.
Petitions to seal criminal records can be made by mail. You must qualify as we discussed earlier. The waiting period must have expired. You can send the Petition and any supporting documents to the court where the case took place. A judge will decide to seal or not.
If your case ended in a:
- Not guilty verdict;
- Continuation without a finding of guilt (CWOF) followed by a dismissal
you can petition the court to seal it immediately. This process requires you to appear in court for a hearing. At the hearing you ask the judge to seal your record in the interest of justice.
A criminal record can seriously impact your life. It can prevent you from getting a job; finding housing; or, volunteering at your children’s activities. In order to help you, Massachusetts allows you to expunge or seal your record. An expungement destroys the records completely. Sealing limits amount of people who can see your record. In either case, you must qualify in order to take action on your criminal record. There are many restrictions and a specific procedure to do so. You should discuss your options with an experienced criminal attorney. Your future is on the line.