Ok, you are sitting in your home around Boston. You hear a police car, sirens screaming, speeding down the street. You momentarily jump because of that old warrant you used to have pending against you. Then, you relax; you remember that, after you started reading this daily blog, you contacted an experienced criminal defense lawyer and cleared the warrant, and the case attached to it,up.
But then, you remember that said nasty stain still exists on your otherwise clean criminal record, or, as it is more commonly called, “CORI”.
What to do?
Is there anything you can do?
Well, there might be, depending on the circumstances. Massachusetts law has changed over the years regarding the possibilities and procedures of the expungements (erasing) and sealing of criminal records.
Totally erasing any sign of a criminal matter is not generally possible in the Commonwealth. That solution is basically left for instances where the wrong person was arrested.
No, that does not mean if your defense in the case was “I didn’t do it”.
It means that you were, for example, arrested on a warrant that had actually been issued to someone of your same name, and you were picked up in error.
Other than that, the solution to look at is sealing the record.
First of all, this sealing a record is not done with a broad brush. In other words, if you have three different matters on your criminal record, you do not simply bring one petition before the court to seal the entire history. Each matter must be handled differently and separately.
When a record is sealed, it is not generally viewable to the general public. For example, if most employers order a copy of your CORI, they will not find out what went on back then. However, law enforcement and the courts can.
Some types of matters are easily sealed. For example, a juvenile record. While some matters, particularly if the juvenile was tried as an adult, are different, a petition to seal typical juvenile records can be brought shortly after the matter has been completed. In any case, even if the petition is not brought, the record is generally not released after the juvenile attains adulthood.
There are waiting periods to bring a petition to seal a criminal record in Massachusetts which depend upon the type of case, particularly if a conviction is involved. Generally, the waiting period for a misdemeanor conviction is 10 years and, for felony convictions, it is 15 years. The waiting period does not start until the matter reaches its “final disposition”. Such a disposition is attained when either the case is ended in court or the ending of any resulting probation or parole period, whichever is the latest.
As is the case in most matters in the legal system, there are exceptions. For example, a misdemeanor drug possession offense may be sealed without the 10 year waiting period.
Some matters are more difficult to seal than others.
The court has to grant the petition to seal a particular record and there is a procedure to follow. Further, some matters will not be sealed.
For example, let’s say you were convicted years ago for murder and, somehow, you are back out on the street and not on probation/parole . Easy sealing of record? Not quite.
On the other hand, some matters, depending on how they ended up, can be sealed quite easily. Cases in which the final disposition was a dismissal, a not guilty finding, a “”no probable cause” finding,or a nolle prosequi (where the prosecutor does not wish to prosecute the case, also called a nol pros), there is no waiting period to have the case sealed. As with all criminal matters, a judge will still have to approve the sealing of the particular record.
The next question is whether you want to try to seal your criminal record.
In most cases, the answer today is “yes”.
Massachusetts law now states that if your records are sealed, then the CORI will read “no adult criminal records on file”. No “red flags” will appear on the CORI. Further, the law now provides that, if your records are sealed, you can anwer “no record” if an employer asks if you have a criminal record.
On the other hand, this still does not mean that your past is completely rewritten. Law enforcement agencies, the Department of Children and Families and a few others will still be able to discover the record and try to unseal it. Further, “have you ever been convicted/arrested for a crime/felony” questions are not the same thing as “Do you have a criminal record”. So be careful.
The bottom line here is that it is worth looking into this avenue if appropriate for you. Understand, however, there are various laws and statutes which govern these matters and you are best advised to retain an experienced defense attorney to help you in the endeavor.
Attorney Sam’s Take:
Actually, today’s posting as been one of my takes. Last Friday, I announced this weekly feature in which I will tackle an issue in criminal justice that involves many people. However, we have decided to move this feature to Thursdays instead of Fridays. Therefore, tomorrow, there will be a regular posting dealing with an actual story in the news.
For more information on the sealing of criminal records, you may wish to check out http://www.masslegalhelp.org/cori/sealing