Do you have a criminal record?

In Massachusetts criminal records are maintained by the Criminal History Systems Board and their term of art for the record itself is CORI — Criminal Offender Record Information. Unlike other states, where old convictions may be permanently expunged from records after a certain period of time, Massachusetts convictions remain on file permanently. The law provides for a process to seal the records of convictions if 10 years have gone by since a misdemeanor conviction or 15 years since a conviction for most felonies, and there are no other convictions of any kind and in any state during that time period. Traffic violations with fines of less than $50 do not count as convictions. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 276 Section 100A is the applicable law.

Section 100C of the same Chapter provides for sealing of records in cases where charges have been dropped by the prosecution or dismissed by the court. The court will order the records sealed if “substantial justice will be served.” This does not appear to be an easy test to meet, as illustrated in Commonwealth v. Doe, 420 Mass. 142 (1995), where potential effects on employment prospects of an MBA graduate were insufficient reason to seal the records in a case where charges were dropped. “Substantial justice,” according to the Supreme Judicial Court, apparently means “the value of sealing to the defendant [must] clearly outweigh [] the Constitutionally-based value of the record remaining open to society.”

As background checks are becoming the norm of the day and affect everything from employment to dating, it is important to know the contents of one’s CORI record. Much like a credit report, the CORI record may contain (usually unpleasant) surprises or even mistakes. Citizens are able to view their CORI record for a fee of $25 that may be waived for those who cannot afford it. See the form and instructions for requesting one’s CORI record.

The CORI record should not be confused with the Massachusetts Warrant Management System (WMS) record, as WMS will also contain warrants issued before any charges were filed, including cases that may have never been prosecuted. The WMS record is only accessible to law enforcement and the courts.