Massachusetts Criminal Record Expungement

Expungement is a legal process that allows individuals to have their criminal records sealed or erased. In Massachusetts, the process of expungement can provide a fresh start for those who have faced legal issues in the past. This article explores the intricacies of expungement in Massachusetts, including eligibility criteria, the application process, and the benefits of having a criminal record expunged.

Understanding Expungement

Expungement is a court-ordered process through which a criminal record is essentially erased in the eyes of the law. Once an expungement is granted, the individual’s criminal record is sealed, and they can legally state that they have never been convicted or arrested for the expunged offense. This can be crucial for gaining employment, housing, and educational opportunities.

In Massachusetts, expungement is governed by specific laws that outline who is eligible and what offenses can be expunged. The laws aim to balance the individual’s right to privacy and rehabilitation with the public’s interest in maintaining accurate criminal records.

Eligibility for Expungement in Massachusetts

Not everyone is eligible for expungement in Massachusetts. The state has stringent criteria that must be met. Generally, the eligibility for expungement depends on the nature of the offense, the age of the offender at the time of the crime, and the amount of time that has passed since the conviction.

Types of Eligible Offenses

  1. Non-violent Offenses: Many non-violent offenses can be expunged. These include certain drug offenses, minor theft, and other misdemeanors.
  2. Juvenile Offenses: Individuals who were juveniles at the time of their offense have a greater chance of having their records expunged, especially for non-violent crimes.
  3. Errors or Identity Theft: If an individual’s record includes errors or crimes committed due to identity theft, they may be eligible for expungement.
  4. Dismissed Cases: Cases that were dismissed or where the individual was found not guilty are often eligible for expungement.

Time Requirements

  • One Offense: If an individual has only one offense on their record, they may be eligible for expungement after a waiting period. For example, misdemeanors often require a waiting period of three years, while felonies require seven years.
  • Multiple Offenses: Individuals with multiple offenses face stricter scrutiny. They must demonstrate a longer period of good behavior and that the expungement is in the interest of justice.

The Expungement Process

The process of expungement in Massachusetts involves several steps and requires adherence to strict legal procedures. It is advisable to seek legal counsel to navigate this complex process.

Step 1: Obtain Criminal Records

The first step in the expungement process is to obtain a copy of your criminal record. This record can be obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS).

Step 2: Determine Eligibility

Review the criminal record and determine if the offenses are eligible for expungement. This step often involves consulting with an attorney who can interpret the eligibility criteria based on Massachusetts law.

Step 3: File a Petition

If the offenses are eligible, the next step is to file a petition for expungement with the court that handled the original case. The petition must include detailed information about the offense, the reasons for seeking expungement, and evidence of rehabilitation or good conduct.

Step 4: Attend a Hearing

After filing the petition, a hearing will be scheduled. During the hearing, the petitioner must present their case to a judge. This includes providing evidence of rehabilitation, good character, and the impact of the criminal record on their life. The prosecution may also present arguments against the expungement.

Step 5: Court Decision

The judge will review the petition and the evidence presented during the hearing. If the judge grants the expungement, the criminal record will be sealed, and the individual will receive a court order confirming the expungement. If the petition is denied, the individual may have the option to appeal the decision.

Benefits of Expungement

Expungement can offer numerous benefits to individuals who have successfully had their criminal records sealed. These benefits extend to various aspects of life, including employment, education, housing, and personal relationships.

Employment Opportunities

A criminal record can be a significant barrier to employment. Many employers conduct background checks and may be reluctant to hire individuals with a criminal history. Expungement allows individuals to legally state that they have no criminal record, thereby improving their chances of securing a job.

Housing

Finding housing can be challenging for those with a criminal record. Landlords often conduct background checks and may deny applications based on past convictions. Expungement can help individuals access better housing opportunities by removing the record of past offenses.

Education

Educational institutions, particularly those that offer professional degrees, often require background checks. A criminal record can hinder admission or eligibility for certain programs. Expungement can remove this barrier, allowing individuals to pursue their educational goals without the stigma of a criminal record.

Personal Relationships

A criminal record can affect personal relationships and social standing. Expungement can help individuals rebuild their lives and relationships without the constant shadow of past mistakes.

Legal Rights

Expungement restores certain legal rights that may have been lost due to a criminal conviction. This includes the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to own firearms (subject to specific state and federal laws).

Challenges and Considerations

While expungement offers many benefits, the process is not without challenges. The legal process can be lengthy, complex, and requires a thorough understanding of Massachusetts law. Additionally, not all offenses are eligible for expungement, and individuals with multiple convictions may face greater scrutiny.

Legal Assistance

Given the complexities of the expungement process, it is highly recommended to seek legal assistance. An experienced attorney can help navigate the legal requirements, prepare the necessary documents, and represent the individual during the court hearing.

Impact on Federal Records

It is important to note that expungement in Massachusetts may not affect federal records. Federal agencies, including immigration authorities, may still have access to the expunged records. Individuals should consult with an attorney to understand the full implications of expungement on federal records.

Top 20 Questions People Ask

1. What is record expungement in Massachusetts?

Record expungement in Massachusetts is the legal process of sealing or erasing a criminal record, making it inaccessible to the public and allowing individuals to legally state that they have no criminal record.

2. Who is eligible for record expungement in Massachusetts?

Eligibility for expungement depends on several factors, including the nature of the offense, the age of the offender at the time of the crime, and the amount of time that has passed since the conviction. Non-violent offenses, juvenile offenses, and errors or identity theft cases are often eligible.

3. How do I apply for record expungement in Massachusetts?

To apply for record expungement, you must obtain a copy of your criminal record, determine eligibility, file a petition with the court that handled the original case, and attend a hearing where you present your case to a judge.

4. How long does the expungement process take in Massachusetts?

The expungement process can take several months, depending on the complexity of the case, the court’s schedule, and the completeness of the petition filed.

5. What offenses are eligible for expungement in Massachusetts?

Eligible offenses include certain non-violent crimes, juvenile offenses, and cases involving errors or identity theft. Specific eligibility depends on the details of the offense and compliance with state laws.

6. Can a felony be expunged in Massachusetts?

Yes, some felonies can be expunged in Massachusetts, particularly non-violent felonies and those involving juveniles. The eligibility depends on the nature of the felony and the time that has passed since the conviction.

7. What is the difference between expungement and sealing a record in Massachusetts?

Expungement completely erases the criminal record, whereas sealing a record makes it inaccessible to the public but still available to certain entities, such as law enforcement and specific employers.

8. How much does it cost to get a record expunged in Massachusetts?

The cost of expungement can vary. There may be filing fees and additional costs if you hire an attorney to assist with the process. It’s advisable to check with the local court for specific fees.

9. Can juvenile records be expunged in Massachusetts?

Yes, juvenile records can often be expunged in Massachusetts, especially if the offense was non-violent. The process is similar to that of adult records, with specific provisions for juveniles.

10. Will expungement remove my record from all databases?

Expungement removes the record from public access, but it may not remove the record from all databases. Some federal agencies may still have access to expunged records.

11. Do I need a lawyer to get my record expunged in Massachusetts?

While it’s not required to have a lawyer, it is highly recommended. An experienced attorney can help navigate the legal complexities and improve the chances of a successful expungement.

12. What happens at an expungement hearing in Massachusetts?

At an expungement hearing, the petitioner presents their case to a judge, including evidence of rehabilitation and good conduct. The prosecution may also present arguments. The judge then decides whether to grant the expungement.

13. Can I expunge a dismissed case in Massachusetts?

Yes, cases that were dismissed or where the individual was found not guilty are often eligible for expungement.

14. How does expungement affect my employment prospects in Massachusetts?

Expungement can significantly improve employment prospects by allowing individuals to legally state that they have no criminal record, thus removing a major barrier to employment.

15. Can expungement restore my gun rights in Massachusetts?

Expungement may restore certain rights, such as the right to vote or serve on a jury. However, the restoration of gun rights is subject to specific state and federal laws and may not be automatically restored.

16. How does the Discovery Rule apply to expungement in Massachusetts?

The Discovery Rule allows for the filing of an expungement petition up to three years from the date the crime was discovered, if it was not discovered immediately.

17. What is the statute of limitations for filing for expungement in Massachusetts?

The statute of limitations for filing for expungement in Massachusetts is typically six years from the date of the offense. However, this may be extended in cases involving public funds or officials.

18. Can expungement be denied in Massachusetts?

Yes, expungement can be denied if the judge determines that the petition does not meet the legal requirements or if there is insufficient evidence of rehabilitation and good conduct.

19. Are expunged records accessible to law enforcement in Massachusetts?

Expunged records are generally not accessible to the public but may still be accessible to law enforcement and certain governmental agencies.

20. Can I appeal a denied expungement petition in Massachusetts?

Yes, if an expungement petition is denied, the individual has the right to appeal the decision to a higher court.

Conclusion

Expungement in Massachusetts provides a valuable opportunity for individuals to clear their criminal records and start anew. By understanding the eligibility criteria, the application process, and the benefits of expungement, individuals can take the necessary steps to improve their future prospects. While the process can be complex and challenging, the potential benefits of expungement make it a worthwhile endeavor for those seeking a fresh start.

References

  1. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 276, Section 100A. Retrieved from Massachusetts Legislature.
  2. Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS). Retrieved from DCJIS.
  3. “Expungement Basics,” The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman, P.C. Retrieved from Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog.
  4. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 276, Section 100A. Retrieved from Massachusetts Legislature
  5. Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS). Retrieved from DCJIS
  6. “Expungement Basics,” The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman, P.C. Retrieved from Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog