How to seal your Criminal Record (CORI) in Massachusetts

Boston Criminal RecordsSealing your criminal record if done correctly is a good idea. Massachusetts CORI law was recently reformed in May of 2012 so as to make sealing your criminal record easier.  A CORI that is not sealed allows employers to view records of all court events, even if your case was dismissed or you were found not guilty. Under the new iCORI law that went into effect on May 4, 2012, on a going forward basis, most employers will only be able to access information related to pending arrests and charges that resulted in a conviction, limited to the past ten years for felonies and the past five years for misdemeanors. The new iCORI law will not affect any record created prior to the passage of the iCORI Act.

Before I begin, it is good to understand the terminology used when sealing a criminal record.  Public access to criminal records is regulated under Massachusetts law, in what’s known as the Criminal Offender Record Information, or CORI.  Your criminal record is sometimes referred to as your BOP (Board of Probation) CORI or criminal record.

A CORI report (your criminal record) will not only include information about your criminal convictions, it will also cover matters such as arrests, dispositions, periods of incarceration or probation, restitution orders, and other data. It’s entirely possible to accumulate a fairly fat CORI file without ever having been convicted of anything.

The Office of the Commissioner of Probation determines what entries will appear on your CORI.  The Commissioner of Probation serves a critical role in the data and information needs of the criminal justice system.  You should be aware that no entries will appear on your CORI until you are arraigned in court. An Arraignment is the formal reading of a criminal complaint in Court in the presence of the defendant so as to inform the defendant of the charges against him.

For this reason, if you were arrested but your case was dismissed prior to your arraignment, no entry will be made on your CORI.  Evidence of the arrest will nevertheless be recorded with the FBI on a database known as your Triple I.  Triple I stands for Interstate Identification Index. This index is fingerprint supported and contains records submitted to the FBI via fingerprint cards from every state in the country.

Before sealing your criminal record, it is a good idea to obtain a certified copy of your docket from the court first.  A docket is the official summary of proceedings of your case in a court of law.  It is a good idea to obtain the certified copy of your docket because if you ever have need for this record in the future you will not be able to obtain it once your record is sealed.

Next you should obtain a copy of your FBI Identification Record to insure it properly reflects what happened in your state court case.  You may not be able to seal your FBI record, but you should review it before sealing your CORI so that you can correct any errors in the FBI Identification Record.  The FBI will produce a copy of its arrest record to you only if you follow a certain procedure of submitting your fingerprints to them along with the proper filing fee.

For felony convictions ten years or older, or misdemeanor convictions five years or older, you can bypass the court and request that your record be sealed through the mail with a petition to seal form approved by the Commissioner of Probation.  You cannot seal a felony conviction under ten years old nor can you seal a misdemeanor conviction under five years old.  The waiting period runs from the date of this event often called the “disposition.”  A felony is any crime where you could receive state prison time as a sentence.  Every other crime is considered a misdemeanor.

If you do not qualify to seal your record with a petition to the Commissioner of Probation, you can file a Motion to Seal in the same court that handled your case before the necessary waiting period, provided you were not found guilty.  If you were found “not guilty,” or your case was dismissed, or the District Attorney dropped the case (a “nolle prosequi”), or you received a continuance without a finding (CWOF) and you did not violate your probation and your case ended with a dismissal, you can file a motion to seal your record.

Public notice of your hearing on a petition to seal must be posted in the courthouse. Some courts require you to make an initial showing prior to posting your motion to seal that your right to privacy outweighs the public’s access to your criminal record.  A judge can only seal your record if she finds that leaving your record open puts you at risk of harm and your interest in sealing the record outweighs the public’s constitutionally protected First Amendment right of access to the record. The judge must find that there is a “compelling interest” in sealing the record and that “substantial justice would be served” by sealing the record.

Once your record is sealed, you can honestly state to any employer that you have “no record”.  Despite a sealed record, be advised that law enforcement and the courts will still have access to your CORI.

In Massachusetts you can seal your criminal record but you cannot expunge your criminal record.  Sealing a criminal record is often confused with a request to expunge a criminal record.  A motion to expunge a criminal record is a motion to essentially erase the fact that criminal charges were ever even brought in the matter. Its specific purpose is to redress a glaring injustice done to a defendant, when it appears from all the evidence introduced, that the defendant never should have been charged by the Commonwealth in the first place. Expungements or totally erasing any sign of a criminal matter is not generally possible in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts due to a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Commonwealth v. Boe, 456 Mass. 337, (March 25, 2010) which held judges cannot expunge criminal records but rather can seal records in conformity with G. L. c. 276, § 100C.

To learn more about motions to seal or to get help with sealing your criminal record, visit Boston Criminal Attorney Steven J. Topazio at for a free consultation.