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Record Sealing FAQs
Being accused of a crime or facing a criminal charge can be an unnerving experience. Even after your case is over you may continue to face the challenge of having a criminal charge on your record. This can be stressful and unsettling particularly as you apply for employment opportunities, housing or educational programs. No matter the outcome of your case having a charge on your record can be a lingering burden. You likely have questions about your criminal record and if there are ways to remove a case from your record. You should consult an attorney for specific guidance on record sealing. However, these are some answers to general questions that often arise.
No. A criminal record does not begin at the time you are arrested. A case will appear on your criminal record once you are brought into court and formally charged, through the process known as arraignment in criminal court. Once you have been arraigned the case will appear on your record. In certain circumstances and experienced attorney may be able to help you resolve your case prior to arraignment so that you can keep an entry from being made on your record.
Once your case has been arraigned it will appear on your record regardless of the final outcome of the case. This means that after the arraignment, even if your case ends in a dismissal, nolle prosse, CWOF, or not guilty finding after trial, the charges will still appear on your record. The only exception would be if your case were dismissed prior to arraignment. That is why it is essential to contact an experienced attorney right away when you are facing criminal charges as they can help you resolve your case while preserving your record.
Once you have been arraigned and a case enters on your record the case will remain on your record for life unless you are able to successfully have your record sealed or expunged.
Generally speaking, yes. All criminal charges will appear on your record after arraignment. Some limited types of court proceedings may not appear on your record. For instance, the issuance of a restraining order against you will not appear on your criminal record; however, if you violate the restraining order and you are charged with this violation that charge will appear on your record. Certain other offenses such as allegations of child abuse or juvenile proceedings may not appear on your record. Only Massachusetts criminal cases will appear on your CORI record.
A variety of agencies, including anyone running a standard background check, will generally have access to your criminal record. For instance, employers, landlords, housing authorities, school systems and a variety of other agencies will have access to your record. This is why anyone with a criminal record may face challenges related to employment, housing, volunteering with their kids school or activities, obtaining a firearms license, and many other aspects of life.
It is extremely difficult to have a record expunged in Massachusetts. With very few exceptions, most individuals will not qualify to have their records expunged. In order to have a case expunged in Massachusetts you must show some serious error or fraud that incorrectly identified you as the person accused of the crime. This is a very narrow remedy and is limited to those individuals falsely identified. This is different from being falsely accused or found innocent of the crime charged. In addition to false identification, certain juvenile offenses may be eligible to be expunged from your record after a period of time.
While having your record expunged is very difficult and reserved for a very limited number of cases, having your record sealed is also highly effective and a more widely available remedy. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor offense you may apply to have your record sealed after three years from the date of conviction or release from custody; for a felony conviction you will have to wait seven years to have your record sealed. Individuals convicted of sex offenses will have to wait 15 years from the date of conviction or release from custody; if required to register as a sex offender, you will not be able to seal your record until the termination of your obligation to register.
If you were charged with a crime and arraigned in criminal court but your case ended without a conviction, i.e a dismissal, pretrial probation, a CWOF or a not guilty verdict, you can petition the court to seal your record without a waiting period. If your case was continued without a finding (CWOF) or you received pretrial probation you will be eligible to have your record sealed upon the successful completion of the probationary period. This generally requires filling out a petition in which you will have to demonstrate some hardship caused by having a criminal record, i.e. difficulties with employment, housing, etc. Your petition will be heard by a judge and the judge will determine if you are eligible to have your record sealed. If you wait the statutory period of three years for misdemeanors or seven years for felonies, then you may seal your dismissal or CWOF administratively by mail through the Department of probation.
In most cases, in order to have your record sealed it will be a multi-step process requiring at least two court appearances. First, you will need to fill out the appropriate application for record sealing and include any supporting documentation. This application will then need to be filed with the court and scheduled for a hearing. Once scheduled for a hearing, you will go before a judge and request your record to be sealed due to hardships in housing, employment, education or other issues resulting from having a criminal record. If a judge finds good reason to grant your application then your record will be sealed. However, if a judge does not find that you have presented good cause to seal your record then the application may be denied. If your request is denied you can appeal this decision or file another petition at a later date presenting new grounds for your request. An experienced attorney can help you navigate this process and achieve favorable results for your petition.
If you have your record sealed there will no longer be any record or entry on your CORI report for the particular case or offense that has been sealed. This means that employers or anyone else who may run a background check on you would not see any record that you were ever charged with a crime. People are often concerned that if the record is sealed and an employer runs a background check it will show up with an entry saying “record sealed.” This is incorrect. If your record has been sealed it will be as though it does not exist and there will be no entry listed when someone checks your CORI. There are a very limited number of exceptions that may still have access to your record even if your record is sealed; for instance, if you are charged with another criminal offense, law enforcement and the court will have access to see any sealed entries on your record; firearms licensing authorities, adoption agencies and background checks for school teachers may also have access.
No, the law allows you to truthfully answer “no” to any questions regarding a criminal record if you have had your record sealed. If your record is sealed and an employer or other agency makes an inquiry about your record they will receive a response that says “no record.”
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Massachusetts and are now experiencing difficulties due to having a case on your criminal record contact the Law Offices of Stephen Neyman, P.C. Attorney Neyman has extensive experience assisting individuals with sealing their records and he will help guide you through the process and achieve the best possible results. He has helped numerous clients seal their records following dismissals and convictions in criminal cases. Call Attorney Neyman’s office at 617-263-6800 or send him an e-mail today for help with successfully sealing your criminal record.