sealing records. The act or practice of officially preventing access to a particular (esp. juvenile-criminal) records, in absence of a court order. See expungement.
expungement of record. The removal of a conviction (esp. for a first offence) from a person’s criminal record.
(Black’s Law Dictionary – Seventh Edition)
Under the Massachusetts 2010 Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Reform Act, an individual convicted of a crime (including entry of a plea of guilty) may seek permission from the court to seal (restrict access to information regarding the conviction) but not expunge (remove the conviction) from their criminal record.
Records may be sealed in generally three circumstances for most convictions:
- Upon the expiration of time (10 years for a felony conviction; 5 years for a misdemeanor conviction)
- Cases that were dismissed without probation, or that resulted in a not guilty finding may be sealed immediately; and
- Offences that are no longer a crime (e.g., possession of less than one ounce of marijuana).
Determining when a record may be sealed is important. The waiting period is calculated from the date that the convicted person was released from custody, if incarcerated; or if the defendant was not incarcerated, the date of the disposition of the case. Additionally, conviction of any subsequent offence will reset the timing. This means that the five/ten year rule is determined from the date of the last criminal conviction.
In instances where there is no conviction (including a continuation without finding without probation, an acquittal, a finding of no probable cause, or a nolle prosequi), a petition to seal records may be filed immediately, but the Court must make a specific finding on the record that by sealing, substantial justice must be served. A vague risk of future harm, including a general threat to reputation or privacy is insufficient.
Are there any exceptions?
Certain sex offenses can be sealed after 15 years, provided that the defendant has no duty to register as a sex offender and/or was never, at any time classified as a Level 2 or Level 3 sex offender. Otherwise, sex offense convictions may not be sealed. Crimes against public justice, such as perjury, filing a false report, witness intimidation, escape from custody and resisting arrest, as well as certain firearms offenses cannot be sealed under any circumstances.