Do I Need an Attorney to Seal/Expunge My Criminal Record in Massachusetts?
Once you are arraigned, you have a 'criminal' record. This record is public and can be viewed by employer(s), friends, family, etc. …indefinitely. And contrary to common belief, most criminal records are not automatically sealed after the passage of a given period of time. Clearing a record in Massachusetts is a difficult and stressful process – reasons enough for some to hire an attorney to serve as their agent in court.
In Massachusetts, even with legal representation, the common wait is either (a) 10 years after a felony conviction OR (b) 5 years after a misdemeanor conviction, before a law enforcement or administrative agency is allowed to seal a record of conviction. One can by making a motion before the court motion may reduce this period, but it is a rarely granted – and requires a lawyer. The motion to reduce the wait period may be granted if:
- conviction was for someone's first unlawful possession of a controlled substance,
- charge(s) was dismissed/nolle prosequi,
- no probable cause OR
- verdict of not guilty, AND no pre-trial probation.
In this event, you may be able to have your case sealed immediately. If you are seeking record expungement for a time-sensitive reason (such as an application deadline for financial aid, or applying for housing on a competitive basis), and you think your case may fall into one of the above categories, then you should definitely seek the services of an attorney.
Since applications to seal a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) require a hearing, you may consider hiring a lawyer if you are not comfortable before a judge. (See our article entitled "Process for Sealing/Expunging Your Adult Criminal Record in Massachusetts").
At The Hearing: In a hearing to seal, if you don't hire a lawyer, you will need to be sure you've explained yourself thoroughly, in a 2-3 minute prepared speech to the judge. You should be comfortable with the basics of First Amendment protections, as well as the basis for the public's "right of access" to your CORI. You should also be prepared to succinctly explain why sealing your CORI won't harm the "public interest." If you have evidence for the harms you have suffered, and those harms are obviously bad for society (e.g., denial of: housing, education, financial, or job opportunities,), then you have a greater chance of succeeding without a lawyer.
Fees for sealing a criminal record can reach well over $2,000.00. Even if you intend to represent yourself at the hearing, consider contacting an attorney experienced with record-sealing to assess your case. Armed with a consultation, you can make a more informed choice.
The situation for juvenile criminal history records is no less complicated. In general, many law enforcement records of juvenile offenses are considered confidential anyway, so consider consulting an attorney before pursuing the expungement of juvenile records.
Conclusion: Don't simply assume because your case is "obvious," that expungement or sealing will be granted once the court hears your "side of things." A Massachusetts Supreme Court case in 2010 reversed the granting of an expungement, even though no one doubted the charges were unfounded. To comply with the statutes on expungement or sealing may take more than mere justice or simple truth…it may take a sharp lawyer.
For other articles on Massachusetts expungement of criminal records, click on the following: