Westwood/Dedham Attorneys Seal or Expunge Criminal Records

If you have ever been either charged with or convicted of any crime in Massachusetts, you should be aware of all your legal rights and consider the very real possibility to seal your criminal offender record information (“CORI”), that is, your criminal record.  This applies to any type of misdemeanor or felony criminal charge, even if the charge was eventually filed, nolle prosequi or dismissed, and even if you were acquitted.

Having a criminal record can shadow you for a lifetime and haunt you in many foreseeable and unforeseeable ways.  It can hinder or prevent you from getting a job, from finding housing, or from enrolling in school or continuing your education.  It can also affect your ability to obtain a mortgage, to secure a business loan or to receive a student loan or a grant as banks and loan officers can deny you because of your criminal record.  Professional associations could exclude you because of your criminal record.  Needless to say, your criminal record is a domestic relations tactical weapon that will be wielded to your financial and emotional loss in a divorce, child custody or visitation proceeding.  Your criminal record could also effectively kill any political aspirations that you have. You will also likely have an FBI record if you were arrested. Updating and Correcting FBI Arrest-Fingerprint Records.

Contact a Dedham/Westwood lawyer at the Law Office of Philip L. Arnel.

Sealing your entire criminal record will prevent most employers, schools, public housing authorities, banks, loan officers, domestic partners and others from accessing embarrassing and damaging information contained in the record.  Attorney Arnel is one of the few attorneys who offer specialized services to preserve and maintain the integrity of the criminal records of people accused of crimes.  Contact the Massachusetts sealing and expunging lawyers at the Law Office of Philip L. Arnel for a free consultation and assessment as to whether or not you can have your record sealed.

Seal Criminal Records

Any person who is arraigned in a Massachusetts court will from that point forward have a criminal record which could be distributed to employers, schools, housing authorities and others regardless of the eventual outcome of the case. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 276, §100A maintains that a defendant's criminal record cannot be sealed by way of petition to the Office of the Commissioner of Probation (but might otherwise possibly be sealed by way of a motion and petition to the court if not a conviction) until certain time periods have passed. The time requirement is currently 5 years for a misdemeanor and 10 years for a felony, providing that there are no further criminal convictions. There is no time requirement for updating and correcting an FBI record. Updating and Correcting FBI Arrest-Fingerprint Records.

There is no legal reason not to have your criminal record sealed so, if you can do it, sealing your record is nearly always a good idea. Most people will benefit from sealing convictions under §100A, or by sealing records of dismissed cases, acquittals, nolle prosequi cases, and cases where no probable cause was found, under G.L. c. 276, §100C. If your record is sealed and you apply for most jobs or housing, then the sealed record will not appear on your CORI report. In the past, the Criminal History Systems Board ("CHSB") would note on a CORI that the individual had at least one sealed record on file (effective November 4, 2010, the CHSB was renamed the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services ("DCJIS")). However, this practice was illegal and it should no longer happen. The CORI should contain no indication that there are sealed records. If an individual has had the entire record sealed, the CHSB should send a report that says there are "no adult criminal records on file." Sealing your criminal record will not arouse suspicion or create a "red flag," since nobody except the police, law enforcement agencies, certain other government agencies, and a very few employers will be able to tell that there are sealed records on file.

Again, if all your cases are sealed, the CORI will not show that you have sealed records on file. Massachusetts law also permits you to answer "no record" if anyone asks if you have a criminal record. Law enforcement will know that you have at least one sealed record on file and can request that the court unseal the record, but only for their exclusive review. Other than law enforcement, only a very few government agencies will be able to see that you have sealed records, but will not know what it is that you sealed. Some of these agencies include the Department of Children and Families ("DCF") (formerly known as the Department of Social Services, or "DSS"), the Department of Youth Services ("DYS"), and the Department of Early Education.

Notably, when a case concludes favorably (i.e., acquittal, nolle prosequi, dismissal without an order of probation) to a defendant, the defendant can petition at any time to have the record sealed as there are no waiting periods under §100C. Even if the case concludes unfavorably, a defendant can otherwise alternatively attempt to seal the criminal record by petition directly to the court, provided that sealing is necessary to effectuate a "compelling government interest." Any of these processes generally require competent legal assistance and is of uncertain outcome.

Contact the Massachusetts criminal record sealing lawyers at the Law Office of Philip L. Arnel for a free consultation to assess your specific case.

Understanding Your Criminal Record and Your Rights

When somebody refers to your CORI, they speak of your criminal record.  CORI is merely the abbreviation for “Criminal Offender Record Information,” which is a record of your Massachusetts criminal history, including any time you were arraigned in court on a criminal charge regardless of the final outcome.  The Massachusetts  Department of Criminal Justice Information Services ("DCJIS") is the government agency responsible for administering CORI and is responsible for the collection, storage, dissemination, and use of CORI. The CORI record should not be confused with the Massachusetts Warrant Management System (“WMS”) record, as WMS will also contain warrants issued before any criminal charges were filed, including cases that may have never been prosecuted.  The WMS record is only accessible to law enforcement, prosecutors, probation and the court.

The people and organizations who can view your CORI include you, police, judges, prosecutors and other criminal justice agencies including, but not limited to, the FBI, CIA and ATF.  Public housing authorities and other landlords that receive government subsidies or operate subsidized housing can view your CORI as can thousands of employers including, but not limited to, hospitals, nursing homes, schools and child care programs, provided they have special permission from the state.  The law also allows victims or witnesses of a crime to view the CORI of the alleged perpetrator and also permits CORI access to anyone in the general public, if the person with the CORI is either in prison or was recently released from prison.

Many employers and public housing authorities are allowed or required to do CORI checks on prospective job or housing applicants whereby they ask the DCJIS for a CORI report when they do a criminal background check.  However, some employers and housing authorities might pay for the services of private background-checking companies to do both a criminal background check and a credit check.  Although by law these private companies can only obtain CORI information that the employer or housing authority can legally get from the DCJIS, they often keep their own lists of arrest records and court records that may include additional information that is not included in the CORI report provided by the DCJIS.  This means that it might get extra information about arrests and the past seven years of your credit history.  The CORI Hotline at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute is available to help you if you have a problem because of a private back-ground checking company and can be reached by calling 617-357-0700, extension 504.

Though most employers and public housing authorities see only convictions and pending cases, other employers, like nursing homes, also see charges that you were not convicted of.  A CORI check can only be done if you sign an acknowledgment form that says you know your CORI is being requested.  This form also asks you for personal information such as your social security number and mother’s maiden name to make sure that it is your actual CORI that will be provided.  It is illegal for anyone to require you to bring a copy of your own CORI as it may have more charges on it than the copy that would be provided by the DCJIS.

You should obtain your own CORI if you are not sure what is on your record.  Simply call the DCJIS at 617-660-4600 and ask them to mail you a Personal CORI Request Form.  Some courts also have the form available in the criminal clerk’s office.  There is a $25 fee, though this fee could be waived if you fill out an Affidavit of Indigency if you receive certain public benefits, or your income is at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines, or paying the fee would deprive you or your family of food, shelter, clothing or other necessities of life.  The request form must be notarized and mailed with a self-addressed stamped envelope and you should receive your CORI by mail in two to three weeks.

A CORI report is hard to read and you should seek the assistance of competent legal counsel to assist in interpreting the abbreviations and in understanding exactly what is on your record.  For example, there is a big difference between actually being convicted of a crime versus having it continued without a finding and then eventually dismissed.  A competent attorney can identify and explain the difference between misdemeanor and felony charges.

A conviction means that you were found guilty of the crime charged, whether you pled guilty or were found guilty by a judge or jury after trial.  Massachusetts employers are allowed to ask if you have ever been convicted of a felony or if you have been convicted of or jailed for a misdemeanor within the past five years, other than a first conviction for drunk driving, simple assault, disturbing the peace, speeding and other civil minor traffic violations.  If you respond that you have been either convicted or incarcerated for a misdemeanor during the past five years, the employer is then permitted to inquire about any other misdemeanors that occurred more than five years ago.  Employers therefore cannot ask about misdemeanors where the date of conviction or end of incarceration, whichever is later, happened five or more years ago, with no convictions since then.  You do not have to tell an employer about criminal charges that you were not found guilty of since they cannot inquire about arrests, detentions, or any violations of law if there was no conviction.  You also do not have to disclose juvenile delinquency cases or CRA cases (“Child Requiring Assistance”), formerly called CHINS cases ("Child in Need of Services") prior to November 5, 2012, so long as the case was not transferred to the Superior Court for criminal prosecution.  Finally, you do not have to tell employers that your criminal record has been “sealed.”

Contact the Massachusetts criminal record sealing lawyers at the Law Office of Philip L. Arnel for a free consultation to assess your specific case.

Your “Sealed” Record

Sealing your criminal record prevents people from outside of the criminal justice system from seeing it. Law enforcement can still see it, but for almost all employers, schools, public housing authorities, private landlords, and everyone else, it is like the criminal charges never occurred. Since criminal records that are sealed prevent disclosure during a CORI check, if asked, you can simply say that you have "no record." Unlike the 5-year and 10-year waiting periods for misdemeanors and felonies, there is no waiting period to seal the record of criminal charges that did not result in a conviction, i.e., dismissed charges, nol prosequi charges, or acquittals (not guilty). Notwithstanding, it will still be required to make a "prima facie" showing, by way of an evidentiary hearing and oral argument to the court, that there is a "compelling government interest" that outweighs the public's First Amendment right to know about the criminal record. In other words, there must be an objectively good reason to seal your criminal record, such as it has or will cost you your present job or prevent job advancement, is preventing you from getting a new job or from obtaining housing, is adversely affecting your military clearance, is preventing you from coaching youth sports or participating or assisting in your child's school activities, or any other legitimate reason.

Contact the Massachusetts criminal record sealing lawyers at the Law Office of Philip L. Arnel for a free consultation to assess your specific case.