Sealed Records and Expungement

Expungement and record sealing are processes which will effectively remove past offenses from your criminal record. A criminal record can affect future job prospects, mortgage loans, and some government benefits. A successful petition to seal your criminal record, after which you can indicate you have no record on applications. This can open up opportunities that were unavailable due to a criminal record.

If you have questions about expungement or record sealing, call Dhar Law LLP in Boston today at 617-391-0592 to speak with a lawyer.

Expungement vs. Sealed Records

Sometimes the terms "expungement" and "sealed records" are used interchangeably. However, there are some technical differences. Expungement is available in only limited cases, and most of the time people say they want their record expunged, they really mean to have their records sealed, which removes them from the public record.

Sealed Records

Under Massachusetts law, any person who has a record of a criminal court disposition may request that the commissioner of probation seal the file. This applies both to cases ending in a conviction, and cases without a conviction. The process is done by filing a petition to seal criminal records with the Office of the Commissioner of Probation (OCP).

Expungement

An expungement order is a court order which will result in records being removed and destroyed. All traces of a record will vanish, with no indication that the record existed. This is in contrast to sealed records, which are not destroyed, but become unavailable to the public.

What is a Criminal Record?

If you have ever been charged with a crime in a state or federal court in Massachusetts, you will have a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI). This is a record of a person's criminal history. You will have a CORI even if your charge resulted in a "not guilty" finding, or charges were dismissed. This information may be available to employers, landlords, and the public at large.

Who Can See My Criminal Record?

You may believe that your criminal record is private, and no one will know if you were convicted of a crime, or even if you were charged with a crime and found not guilty. However, in Massachusetts, there is a common law "general principle of publicity" which applies to judicial records. This means that court records are presumptively open to the public. The public can even photocopy your records. Anyone who wants to see publicly available records does not even have to say why they want to see them. For some types of records, this right of the public to have access to court records is secured by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

What Records Can Be Expunged?

Very few cases are eligible for an expungement order. This includes police records in juvenile delinquency cases which are dismissed for lack of evidence; abuse prevention orders that were obtained through fraud on the court; and cases where someone was charged under an assumed name of an innocent person so that the innocent person can their name removed from record.

Except for the above types of cases, most criminal records, juvenile court records, probation records, and abuse prevention orders cannot be expunged.

Effects of a Sealed Record

After an order is issued to seal particular records, the public will no longer have access to the records they would otherwise have access to. If you are asked about criminal convictions on a job application, you can respond, "no record."

When Can I Have My Records Sealed?

In many cases, there is a waiting period before criminal records can be sealed. Some cases can be sealed without any waiting period. The waiting period generally runs from the date of conviction, or the date after any period of incarceration, whichever is longer. For juvenile cases, the waiting period runs from the termination of court supervision, probation, commitment or parole.

Cases Without a Conviction:

There is no waiting period for cases that ended without a conviction. This includes cases with a finding of "not guilty," "no probable cause," "dismissed," or "nol prossed."

Offenses Which Are No Longer Crimes:

There is no waiting period for cases that ended in a conviction for an offense that has since been decriminalized.

First-Time Drug Possession:

Some first-time drug possession convictions can be requested to be sealed with no waiting period.

Juvenile Delinquency Cases:

For juvenile delinquency cases, an individual can petition for sealed records after three (3) years. This does not apply to juvenile sex offender charges.

Misdemeanors:

An individual can petition for sealed records of a misdemeanor conviction after five (5) years.

Felonies:

An individual can petition for sealed records of a felony conviction after ten (10) years.

Sex Offenders:

Sex offenders cannot apply for sealed records until after fifteen (15) years from their last date of incarceration or obligation to register as a sex offender, whichever is longer. However, Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders cannot have their records sealed.

Crimes Against Public Justice:

Unethical offenses by public officials and employees, such as corruption, cannot be sealed. Additionally, some offenses against the public such as witness intimidation, resisting arrest, perjury and filing false reports may not be sealable.

Firearm Convictions:

Some gun offenses cannot be sealed.

After a subsequent criminal conviction, the waiting period begins all over again. You can't have a prior record sealed until after the waiting period for the more recent conviction.

Denial to Seal Records

If you have petitioned to have your records sealed, and were denied, there is an appeals process. However, winning an appeal can be more difficult that preparing a successful initial application to seal records. An experienced Massachusetts criminal lawyer can help to clarify the petition process, and prepare a petition that provides the greatest evidence and arguments in support of your petition to seal your criminal record.

If you don't want other people to know about your criminal past, you may not know how to go about sealing your records. If you have a criminal record that is preventing you from getting jobs, loans, or benefits, a petition to have your record sealed may be the answer to getting back on track. A qualified criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the complicated process of cleaning up your criminal record. An experienced attorney from Dhar Law LLP in Boston will help you determine whether your record can be cleared, and represent you through the expungement process. Call our law firm today at 617-391-0592.