Sometimes an individual might want a fresh start free from a regrettable past, whether the incident is a teenage misadventure or an adult indiscretion incorporated in the public record. Occasionally it is possible to make the misdeeds disappear, at least as far as the public record is concerned, through the process of expungement or sealing of official documents. Under Massachusetts law, both procedures are permitted, though expungement is allowed under only one exceedingly rare circumstance.

What Is Expungement?

Sealing records prevents the majority of people from accessing the official information by removing the records from public view. In Massachusetts, individuals cleared of crimes can petition the judge for immediate sealing, while those convicted of some crimes can file requests after certain periods of time have passed. Individuals also can request corrections to erroneous records.

Under expungement, which is permitted for erroneous convictions in situations such as identity fraud, public records are destroyed and, officially, it's as if the incident never happened.

Sealed or expunged information would not show up during many routine pre-employment background checks, and potential employers who use such information to reject job applicants must reveal the information to the applicants and give them a chance to correct errors before asking any questions about the cases.

However, there is no guarantee that information never will be revealed—Massachusetts permits access to sealed records to law enforcement agencies and officials overseeing foster care, adoption and child care programs.

Who Is Eligible for Sealing?

Massachusetts has different waiting periods for sealing, depending on the outcome of the case. Dismissals, acquittals and first-time drug possession convictions can be sealed immediately, while dismissals after probation can be sealed after the probation is complete. Misdemeanor convictions have five-year waiting periods for sealing, felons must wait 10 years, and those convicted as juveniles must wait three years, with the clock restarting if subsequent convictions occur. Certain crimes, including firearms offenses and any conviction requiring registration as a sex offender, never can be sealed.

What Information Must Be Submitted?

The first step in Massachusetts is reviewing a copy of the CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) report by completing the application and returning it, along with a $25 money order unless you are indigent, by mail. Be sure to request a check for every name ever used or the record could be incomplete. Next, complete a petition to seal and return it by mail to the Commissioner of Probation.

Other Alternatives

While Massachusetts permits the governor to grant pardons that forgive the crime or clemency that shortens the sentence, both occur rarely. Though a pardon does seal—but not expunge—criminal records, the 15-year waiting period for felonies is longer than for normal sealing.

Seeking A Massachusetts Attorney for Expungement

This article is a general overview of Massachusetts expungement and sealing law. Consult a local Massachusetts attorney for advice on specific questions about how to proceed.

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