How to Seal Your Massachusetts Criminal Record

  • By gskandg
  • 28 Aug, 2017
If you have had any contact with the criminal justice system in Massachusetts, you know that it can seem like criminal charges cast a persistent shadow over many areas of your life, affecting your employment prospects, your ability to secure housing, and many other aspects of life.  This is likely true if you were convicted […]
Sealing a criminal record allows for the removal of certain felony and misdemeanor convictions from the criminal history that is available to most potential employers or others — like prospective landlords — who might have access to your Criminal Offender Record Information (or “CORI”).  A separate sealing process can also remove any charges that were resolved with an acquittal after trial or a dismissal prior to trial.  The process for these two different situations includes some important distinctions that are outlined below.
Sealing your record if you have been convicted of a crime
Even if you have been convicted of a crime, you can still be eligible to have your conviction sealed off your record after a certain number of years have passed. The following timelines apply for the for sealing a conviction:
  • Misdemeanor convictions: Can be sealed 5 years after the final disposition of a case or the conclusion of any jail or prison sentence.
  • Felony convictions: Can be sealed 10 years after the final disposition of a case or the conclusion of any jail or prison sentence.
  • Sex offenses: Can be sealed 15 years after the final disposition of a case or the conclusion of any jail or prison sentence or after the person no longer needs to register as a sex offender. (Note – Certain sex offenses cannot be sealed off a criminal record.)
If the applicable waiting period has passed to seal a conviction, and you have not been convicted of any criminal charges in the interim, you need to obtain a copy of your CORI from the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Information Services and a certified copy of the court docket from the court where the conviction was entered.
With these documents in hand, you then need to file a Petition to Seal with the Commissioner of Probation. If enough time has elapsed, the case should be sealed.  This should be strictly an administrative process.
Sealing records for cases that were dismissed or that did not result in a conviction
The process for sealing a criminal charge that did not result in a conviction is, counterintuitively, somewhat more complicated than sealing an actual conviction. Unfortunately, it requires multiple steps and a hearing before a judge in open court. If you’re looking to seal a record in a case that did not result in a conviction, including those where the prosecutor filed a nolle prosequi (meaning that the charges were dropped by the Commonwealth) or where the case was dismissed before trial (including those that were dismissed after a Continuance Without a Finding or “CWOF”) there is no waiting period that must be observed before a case can be sealed, but you must jump through a few hoops to achieve your desired goal.
You (or your attorney) initiate the process by filing a Petition to Seal with the clerk’s office for the District Court where the criminal case you are seeking to seal originated.
This petition should usually be filed in conjunction with supporting documents, including a memorandum and affidavit that would support sealing the record. Once the Petition to Seal has been submitted to the clerk’s office, a judge will review the petition to determine if there has been an initial showing of “good cause” as to why the record should be sealed. If this first hurdle is cleared, a court hearing will be scheduled, and the court will give notice to the District Attorney’s Office and post a public notice in the courthouse regarding the hearing on your petition.
At the hearing, you must show that there is “good cause” to seal the records.  Based on a recent decision by the Supreme Judicial Court, a judge should consider:
  • Whether you can show that the availability of your criminal record creates a disadvantage of some kind, including problems finding employment, housing, or an inability to access some other opportunity where a criminal record is an impediment.
  • Whether you can show evidence of rehabilitation.
  • The stigma attached to a particular type of crime and whether you would benefit from the removal of that stigma without posing any threat to the safety or well-being of the community.
  • Your personal circumstances at the time of the charge, including your age, whether substance abuse may have played a part in the charges being filed, or any other mitigating factors.
  • How much time has passed since the date of the alleged offense or from the date the case was dismissed.
  • Why you received the disposition you received.
Depending on the court’s weighing of those factors, the judge may issue a decision right away or may take the case under advisement. If the latter occurs, you will receive the written decision at a later date.
As you will have no doubt noticed, navigating the process of sealing your record can be somewhat complicated, especially for those who are unfamiliar with it.
Although this post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice, the law offices of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouskican advise you on this or other complex legal issues. Visit the GSK&G website or call 508-756-6206  and ask to speak with Attorney James Gribouski or Attorney Darren Griffis to learn more about how we can help you seal any criminal charges that may be in your past, whether those charges are from Worcester, another court in Central Massachusetts, or anywhere else in Massachusetts.

GSK&G Legal News

By Darren Griffis 06 Nov, 2017

In a decision that will significantly impact the evidence that can be used against defendants charged with driving under the influence of marijuana (or, as they say in Massachusetts, operating under the influence or “OUI”), The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently restricted the extent to which field sobriety tests (FSTs) can be used as evidence of marijuana intoxication at trial. In Massachusetts, if a defendant is charged with OUI for allegedly being under the influence of alcohol, a police officer can testify about the person’s level of intoxication based on how they perform on the FSTs. However, the Court found that police officers may not use their observations of a defendant’s performance on these tests as a basis for drawing a conclusion about whether the defendant was under the influence of marijuana.

The case, Commonwealth v. Gerhardt , stems from a 2013 traffic stop in which the defendant, Thomas Gerhardt, allegedly “failed” multiple FSTs after being pulled over by a state trooper. Based on the defendant’s inability to adequately perform the tasks involved in these FSTs, the officer testified that he came to the conclusion that the defendant was “high” after smoking marijuana. Mr. Gerhardt’s attorney argued that such tests were designed to test one’s alcohol intoxication level and that they do not directly translate to the context of marijuana use. Fortunately for Mr. Gerhardt, the SJC agreed with that argument.

 While standard FSTs are generally accepted by courts as reliable representations of a person’s intoxication from alcohol consumption, there is no scientific consensus about whether the tests are indicative of marijuana impairment. According to the SJC’s decision in Gerhardt , scientists have found that, unlike alcohol, which has a relatively predictable effect on most people, marijuana can affect different people in vastly different ways. Because of this variation, the court concluded that the FSTs do not necessarily predict whether a defendant is under the influence of marijuana. Thus, the court concluded that an officer may only testify as to his or her observations of a defendant’s performance on the tests and not about whether he or she concluded that a defendant was under the influence of marijuana based on the defendant’s ability to complete the administered tasks. 

Furthermore, after the court’s decision in Gerhardt , an officer may not testify that a defendant “passed” or “failed” any FST, since that language “improperly implies that the FST is a definitive test of marijuana use or impairment.” The court also instructed that officers should avoid calling the FSTs “tests” in these types of cases and should instead refer to the tests as “roadside assessments” to prevent a jury from impropely jumping to a conclusion that the tests are scientific evidence of a defendant’s sobriety or intoxication. Finally, the court included model jury instructions for future trials that will tell juries that evidence of performance on FSTs alone is not sufficient to support a finding that a defendant’s ability to drive safely was impaired due to the consumption of marijuana.

If you are facing criminal charges, including charges that you drove a car while under the influence of marijiuana, please contact James Gribouski or Darren Griffis at Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski for more information about how they can put their legal knowledge to work for you.

By Darren Griffis 01 Nov, 2017

November 1, 2017, East Brookfield District Court, East Brookfield, Massachusetts

Attorney James J. Gribouski’s client, a twenty-two year old Webster, Massachusetts woman was stopped by a Dudley, Massachusetts police officer for allegedly crossing the middle lines on the roadway. After the client performed standardized field sobriety tests, including the walk and turn and one-legged stand, the officer arrested her for OUI.

Attorney Gribouski obtained the police reports and booking video, and after reviewing that evidence, recommended that his client proceed to trial. At trial, Attorney Gribouski cross-examined the police officer on his observations of the client and presented a copy of the booking video in his client’s defense. After the judge heard the cross-examination of the officer and watched the booking video, Attorney Gribouski's client was acquitted of the OUI charge.

By Darren Griffis 31 Oct, 2017

October 27, 2017, Central District Court of Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts

Attorney James J. Gribouski’s client, a twenty-seven year old native of Revere, Massachusetts, was happily cruising down Route 146 at 94 miles per hour in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, smoking a bowl of marijuana when a Massachusetts State Trooper pulled him over. After the client admitted that he had just smoked the marijuana, the Trooper requested that he perform field sobriety tests and then charged the client with OUI marijuana.

During the pendency of the case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an important decision in  Commonwealth v. Gerhardt .  In that case, the SJC ruled that police can no longer offer an opinion as to whether a person was impaired by marijuana based on field sobriety tests (which are now to be referred to as "roadside assessments). Based on that recent ruling and his evaluation of the facts in the trooper's report, Attorney Gribouski recommended that his client proceed to trial, and the client was quickly acquitted.

By Darren Griffis 26 Oct, 2017

October 26, 2017, Concord District Court, Concord, Massachusetts

Attorney James J. Gribouski’s client was stopped at a Massachusetts State Police Sobriety Checkpoint in Concord, Massachusetts. After performing field sobriety tests he was arrested for OUI. After carefully reviewing the police reports that he obtained, Attorney Gribouski recommended that his client proceed to trial.

At trial, Attorney Gribouski was able to point out several issues with the prosecution's case during cross-examination of the arresting officer. For example, he established that she did not observe that his client had slurred speech or was unsteady on his feet. Additionally, the officer testified that she did not see the client drive in an erratic manner.  After establishing these favorable facts, Attorney Gribouski was able to rest his case without calling any witnesses. The judge then found his client not guilty of OUI.  

By Darren Griffis 23 Oct, 2017

In a landmark recent decision, Brangan v. Commonwealth , the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that judges must take a defendant’s financial resources into consideration when setting bail in a criminal case. Moreover, the SJC made it clear that, where the amount of bail appears to exceed a defendant’s financial resources, a judge must provide written or oral findings of fact and a statement of reasons for the bail decision.

This ruling is the result of a challenge to a lower court’s refusal to lower a $50,000 cash bail for a defendant who was confined for three-and-a-half years in Hampden County pending armed robbery charges. In reversing the Superior Court’s denials of the defendant’s requests for a lower bail, the SJC ruled that the judges failed to properly account for the defendant’s financial resources when in setting the amount of bail in the case.

According to the court, judges violate defendants’ due process and equal protection rights when they set bail amounts that have the effect of confining indigent defendants while charges are pending without regard for their financial constraints. Defendants who cannot afford to post bail suffer a loss of liberty during a period when they are supposed to enjoy a presumption of innocence and also lose the ability to fully participate in the preparation of their defense. While the court unfortunately stopped short of requiring judges to set a bail in an amount a defendant can afford, the decision in Brangan made it clear that judges must more clearly delineate the reasons for setting a bail that a defendant will not be able to pay.

Although judges were already required to consider a defendant’s financial resources in setting bail, this ruling should require judges to more carefully weigh that particular consideration, as well as requires judges to provide a statement of reasons when the bail amount exceeds the defendant’s resources.

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact James Gribouski and Darren Griffis at Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski for more information about how they can put their legal expertise to work for you.

By Darren Griffis 23 Oct, 2017

In August, Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (the “EOPSS”) launched an investigation into the Office of Alcohol Testing (the “OAT”), the agency responsible for ensuring the reliability of breath test machines used by police officers in drunk driving investigations. The EOPSS recently released its summary of that investigation, which concluded that the OAT systematically withheld documents from defense attorneys during the pendency of a lawsuit challenging the reliability of breathalyzer test results because of an “unwritten policy not to turn these documents over to any requester.”  The documents that were withheld contained evidence that some of the breathalyzer machines were not properly calibrated during the process used to certify the devices.  

As a result of the investigation, the head of the OAT was fired. The EOPSS report laid the blame for the failure to provide the potentially exculpatory evidence squarely on the leadership of OAT, concluding that the agency committed “serious errors of judgment in its responses to court-ordered discovery, errors which were enabled by a longstanding and insular institutional culture that was reflexively guarded . . . and which was inattentive to the legal obligations borne by those whose work facilitates criminal prosecutions.” OAT’s failure to turn over documents allowed prosecutors handling the cases in which defense attorneys were challenging the breath test machines’ reliability to incorrectly represent that the state had complied with its discovery obligations.

Questions about the reliability of the particular breathalyzer (the Draeger 9510) were initially raised in 2015, but were ultimately dismissed by prosecutors, who maintained that any flaws in test results were because of mistakes made by officers in calibrating the machines and not because the machines themselves were malfunctioning. Defense attorneys again raised suspicions about the tests in July after a judge ordered the State to hand over roughly 400 worksheets that accompany breathalyzer calibration checks performed by state chemists, which had strangely not been disclosed by the State. When the missing worksheets were finally turned over, defense attorneys discovered that they documented serious flaws with the results that OAT obtained during the certification process.

The investigation raises series questions about over 58,000 drunk-driving prosecutions in which the Draeger 9510 machines were used. These cases date back to 2011 that and could impact more than 750 defendants over that time period.  A further hearing on the problems with the breath test machines is scheduled for mid-November.

Massachusetts has been involved in a series of scandals involving state laboratories’ failure to properly maintain and analyze evidence. The convictions of two state chemists, Annie Dookhan and Sonia Farak, resulted in the dismissal of more than 21,000 charges against defendants who had drug cases. This investigation by EOPSS and the ongoing litigation regarding the state’s use of the breathalyzer machines is especially critical given that the OAT is the only agency in the state that performs scientific testing that is not audited by an independent accrediting organization.

If you pleaded guilty to, or were convicted of, driving under the influence of alcohol or OUI as the result of breath test results, you may have grounds to challenge your conviction. Although this post does not constitute legal advice, you should contact Attorneys James Gribouski and Darren Griffis at Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski to find out whether your case may be impacted by the pending investigation.

By gskandg 29 Sep, 2017
September 28, 2017, Central District Court of Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts Attorney James J. Gribouski’s client, a thirty-two year old Worcester, Massachusetts man was stopped in Auburn, Massachusetts by an Auburn police officer for operating without headlights.  After speaking with the client and detecting a strong odor of fresh marijuana, the client was requested to perform […]
By gskandg 27 Sep, 2017
September 26, 2017, Central District Court of Massachusetts, Worcester, Massachusetts Attorney James J. Gribouski’s client, a twenty year old Assumption College student was stopped by an Assumption College campus police officer for not having any taillights.  After giving him field sobriety tests, the officer arrested the client for OUI/DWI. Attorney Gribouski recognized that the roads […]
By gskandg 27 Sep, 2017
September 26, 2017, Central District Court of Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts Attorney James J. Gribouski’s client, a twenty-six year old Worcester, Massachusetts woman was stopped by a Massachusetts State Trooper on Harding Street in Worcester, Massachusetts.  After giving the client field sobriety tests, the trooper arrested the client for OUI/DWI. Attorney Gribouski obtained the police reports […]
By gskandg 27 Sep, 2017
Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OUI) is a serious offense no matter where you live. But in Massachusetts, the repercussions you may face if you are convicted of this offense can be particularly harsh. A first conviction can get you up to two-and-a-half years in jail, a year-long driver’s license suspension, and […]
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