Sealing & Expunging Criminal Records

Sealing & Expunging Criminal Records

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Expunging Criminal Records in Boston / Petitions to Seal in MA

Having a criminal record can hang over your head for a lifetime. It can hinder your ability to get a job, find housing, and obtain financial aid.

The good news is that, depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to seal your criminal record. If you can do so, it is often a good idea to have your record sealed or expunged. Once your record is sealed, most employers, landlords, and others who run a background check on you will get this response: “no criminal record.” You are legally allowed to state on employment applications that you have no record.

We have helped countless people seal their records so that they can move on with their lives. If you are looking for assistance sealing or expunging your record, call us today for a free phone consultation at 781-797-0555.

How do I seal my record?

Generally, there are two ways to seal a criminal record in Massachusetts:
Sealing by Mail – Many cases can be sealed by mailing a form to the Commissioner of Probation after a waiting period* of 3 years for a misdemeanor and 7 years for a felony. Convictions can only be sealed by mail, with the exception of first time drug possession, which can also be sealed by a judge.

Sealing in Court – A judge has the legal authority to seal cases that were dismissed or ended in a “not guilty” finding. There is no waiting period required. Generally, judges can also seal a first time drug possession conviction.

What records can be sealed in MA?

Not every case can be sealed, and it is important to discuss your options with an experienced criminal defense attorney. For example, several firearm offenses are exempt from sealing (specifically, charges brought under these statutes: G.L. c. 140, sections 121-131H). That said, simply carrying or possession of a firearm charges are eligible for sealing.

“Crimes against the public,” charged under G.L. c. 268, are largely not available for sealing. In fact, resisting arrest may be the only charge under that chapter that is possible to seal.

State ethics violations under G.L. c. 268A are unable to get sealed.

Sex offenses – if you are still currently required to register with SORB – cannot be sealed. And anyone who has ever been classified as a level 2 or 3 sex offender cannot ever seal a sex offense.

Given the complexities and nuances surrounding the record sealing laws, it is crucial that your petition is done right. We can help. Our attorneys have helped many people overcome the stain of a past criminal record, so that they can move on with their lives.

Who can see a sealed criminal record record?

In the majority of cases, law enforcement agencies and the courts will still have access to your sealed criminal record. For most people, it will prevent their employers and prospective employers from seeing the record. And despite a prevailing myth that a sealed record will say “sealed” on a background check, a CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) check will instead state that you have no record after your case has been properly sealed. That said, there are different levels of access, depending on the person or entity requesting the background check.

For people with immigration issues, or who are seeking citizenship, it is vital to speak with an attorney before applying to seal your records. Immigration authorities have access to criminal records, and sometimes those records are incomplete. We have actually had to get records unsealed for clients when their immigration attorneys are putting together or supplementing and immigration application.

Expunging criminal records in Massachusetts

Expungement is defined as the permanent erasure or destruction of a record so that the record is no longer accessible to, or maintained by, the court, any criminal justice agencies or any other state agency, municipal agency or county agency. If you are eligible to have your record expunged, you can file a petition with the Commissioner of Probation. If you are ineligible, the Commissioner will notify you within 60 days. If you are eligible, the Commissioner will notify the district attorney’s office within 60 days, who then has 65 days to object. If the DA objects, the court must hold a hearing within 21 days. The court has the ultimate discretion whether to allow your petition, if it is “in the best interests of justice.”

There are very specific criteria for expunging records in Massachusetts, including:

  • An offense that occurred before your 21st birthday
  • A period of 7 years has passed, if a felony (or 3 for a misdemeanor) [Restraining Order violations require 7 years, despite their misdemeanor status
  • There are no other court appearances on your record [minor exceptions apply
  • You must certify that, to the best of your knowledge, you are not the subject of a criminal investigation

Certain crimes are ineligible for expungement, including:

  • Any offense resulting in death or serious bodily injury
  • Any offense committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury
  • Any offense committed while armed with a dangerous weapon
  • Any offense committed against an elderly person
  • Any offense committed against a disabled person
  • Any sex offense for which you have to register
  • Operating Under the Influence
  • Any sexual offense as defined by G.L. c. 123, §1
  • Firearms offenses
  • Any offense made in violation of a probate court order to stay away from spouse or vacate the marital home
  • Any offense in violation of a restraining order or harassment prevention order
  • Assault or Assault and Battery on a family or household member
  • Any felony offense contained within Chapter 265.

Despite the above list of prohibited charges, a judge may still be able to expunge your record under G.L. c. 276, §100K. A Judge may expunge a record where you do not meet the eligibility requirements above, if the judge determines based on clear and convincing evidence that the record was created as a result of:

1. False identification of the petitioner or because of identity theft;
2. An offense which is no longer a crime;
3. Demonstrable errors by law enforcement;
4. Demonstrable errors by civilian or expert witnesses;
5. Demonstrable errors by court personnel; or
6. Demonstrable fraud perpetrated on the court.

Attorneys to help seal or expunge criminal records

If you have a criminal record that is holding you back, we may be able to help. We can discuss the pros and cons, and help you determine if sealing a record will achieve your goal. Sometimes there are other options that better fit your situation, such as filing a motion for new trial, or a motion to vacate a guilty plea. For example, if you are seeking a license to carry firearms, sealing your record won’t help; instead, we have helped people reopen and get rid of old convictions for that purpose. Every situation is unique, so call us for a free phone consultation today.

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