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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, criminal records are available to interested members of the public on request. However, MGL c. 276, § 100A allows these records to be sealed/expunged permanently or for a specified period. For misdemeanors where the penalty is a maximum sentence of 2.5 years in prison, the records may be sealed three years after serving the jail term. On the other hand, records of felonies with penalties of over 2.5 years incarceration may be sealed seven years after the sentence is completed.

Individuals convicted for sex offenses in Massachusetts can apply to seal the criminal records 15 years after the conviction. However, if the court requires the convict to register as a sex offender, then the court cannot remove or restrict the record.

Records expunged in Massachusetts are destroyed permanently and cannot be reviewed by the general public, or law enforcement agencies. G. L. c.276, § 100E–100U provides information regarding what records are eligible for expungement. There are two types of expungement in Massachusetts; time-based expungement and non-time-based expungement. The Massachusetts Probation Service (MPS) is responsible for sealing and expunging criminal records in Massachusetts.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

In the state of Massachusetts, an expunged criminal record is permanently erased and technically does not exist according to G. L. c.276, § 100E–100U. On the other hand, sealing a record in Massachusetts limits the number of persons that can access the document. However, unlike other states, Massachusetts sealed records will be removed from federal and interstate CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information).

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How to Seal a Criminal Record in Massachusetts

Persons who wish to seal a criminal court record can obtain the case file from theCriminal Record Check Services or at the Clerk of Court where the case began. To seal criminal records with conviction, interested parties must fill out a petition to seal conviction records form or a petition to seal non-conviction records to seal case files without sentences. Requestors may include documents to support the petition. Completed forms and supporting documents can be mailed to the court, which initially filed the case. It is free to seal a case file in Massachusetts.

The court will consider the following before sealing a criminal record;

  • Damage caused because of the record’s existence
  • The defendant’s proof of rehabilitation or any other evidence
  • Factors that can hinder the bearer’s success in life
  • Length of time since the sentence or violation (three years for a misdemeanor and seven years for a felony)
  • Manner of case disposition

If the applicant files the request with a district court, the judge will determine eligibility, and if the petitioner is qualified, the judge will fix a hearing date. The district court will send mail to ineligible requestors. For requests filed with the superior court, the court will schedule a preliminary hearing to determine eligibility. Parties not satisfied with the decision of the court can appeal to the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in Massachusetts

The process to expunge a criminal record is similar to sealing, but not the same as sealed records still exist in the court. There are two different types of expungement:

  • Time-Based expungement
  • Non-time based expungement

Time-Based Expungement

To qualify for time-based expungement:

  • The offense must have occurred before the applicant’s 21st birthday
  • The violation must be eligible for expungement under the law.

There is also time eligibility, in which a specified period must have elapsed. For example, if the offense is a felony, the offender must have completed all parts of the sentence seven years before applying. For misdemeanors, the offender must have completed all sentences at least three years before the application. Also, applicants must not have any other criminal or juvenile court appearances or dispositions on file (other than motor vehicle offenses where the penalty is no more than a $50 fine).

Non-time Based Expungement

Additionally, the law allows expungement of a record based on:

  • False use of identification
  • Illegal use of identity
  • Identity theft
  • Infraction(s) no longer regarded as a crime (i.e possessing small amounts of marijuana)
  • Errors by law enforcement agencies
  • Errors by a civilian or expert witness(es)
  • Errors by court employees
  • Fraud perpetrated

How to Expunge Criminal Records in Massachusetts

Before filing a petition for expungement with the Massachusetts Probation Service (MPS), requestors must confirm eligibility. Requesters are required to complete a petition for expungement form and mail it to the MPS. If the applicant is qualified for expungement, the Office of the Commissioner of Probation will notify the District Attorney’s Office at the court that issued the verdict. The hearing follows at the discretion of the District Attorney, and if the attorney honors the request, the applicant will receive a copy of the expungement order. Violators can make copies of the expunged record before obtaining the order.

Do Sealed Records Show up In Massachusetts Background Checks?

No. After the expungement of a record, the defendant cannot acknowledge the case if anyone inquires about it. In Massachusetts, expunging a criminal record deletes the said record permanently. However, sealing only restricts access to the record.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in Massachusetts?

Law enforcement agencies, including police, courts, and state attorneys, can see sealed records, especially for employment and certification purposes only. However, the court will not reveal expunged non-conviction records to law enforcement agencies under any circumstances.

How to Obtain Sealed Records in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, court orders are required to access sealed records. Interested persons may also apply to obtain a sealed case file at the court. Requestors are typically required to serve the application to any party that may be directly affected by an order for access. Applicants must also file an affidavit outlining any relevant fact that is part of the application.

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