CORI: Getting criminal records sealed or expunged
A CORI (criminal offender record information), compiles each individual’s criminal history with respect to any criminal case in a Massachusetts state court. Even if a charge does not result in a conviction, is continued without a finding (CWOF) or eventually is dismissed, it leaves a trail. Background checks are routine in today’s world and criminal records, even for actions that occurred long ago, can have devastating consequences on a person’s ability to obtain a job, housing, and loans.
There is a major difference between getting a criminal record sealed and expunged. A sealed criminal record limits who has access to it. Having a criminal record expunged, on the other hand, erases it from a person’s criminal history entirely, as if it never happened. As a result, expungement is very limited and rarely used. An example of this is one Massachusetts case where a woman was mistakenly charged with leaving the scene of an accident. A criminal complaint issued against her but the charge was later dismissed. The woman requested that the criminal record be expunged, but her request was denied by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Having a criminal record sealed is a much different matter. A criminal record can be sealed by a judge or by filing a Petition to Seal by mail. A judge can immediately seal a criminal record if:
- The prosecutor dropped the case, otherwise known as nolle prosequi;
- The case ended in a “not guilty” finding, or;
- The case was dismissed.
Judges can also seal criminal records related to a first-time conviction for possession of drugs, so long as the defendant did not violate the terms of his/her probation or other conditions ordered by the court.
Even in the above cases, if the Petition to Seal is done by mail (administratively), there is a waiting period. Any criminal records including the above, require a waiting period before they can be sealed administratively. The waiting period for most misdemeanors is 5 years and 10 years for most felonies. Any conviction for a sex offense that required an entry into the Sex Offender Registry increases the waiting period to 15 years from the last event in the case, including probation, parole, or a period of supervision.
Once a criminal record is sealed you can truthfully say you do not have a criminal record to a potential employer. However, certain employers will still be able to access sealed records. These are limited to law enforcement or criminal justice agencies, such as a court or a police department, and anyone being screened to become a childcare worker by the Department of Early Education. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Youth Services (DYS) also can access the sealed records of anyone looking to adopt a child or become a foster parent.
Can a CORI Be Cleaned Up?
Knowing what is part of your criminal record is the first step in the process. You can request a copy of your CORI by going to the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information (DCJIS) or by mailing a notarized CORI request to the DCJIS. There is normally a $25.00 fee for obtaining the information. This can be waived if a person can show he/she is too poor (indigent) to pay the fee, by filing an Affidavit of Indigency. For more information visit:
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