Sealing or Expunging Juvenile Criminal Records in Massachusetts
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The two legal terms most associated with "clearing" a juvenile criminal record are expungement and sealing. Both refer to similar concepts, but the differences are important. Expungement in the Massachusetts legal system is another word for "destruction." Expungement may, for example, occur in one branch (police records) but not another (probation): Commonwealth V. Calvin G. (2002).A common misconception is that juvenile records are destroyed at the age of 17, but again, this is not true: expungements are rarely granted. The better option available for clearing a record is usually to "seal" it. "Sealing" a juvenile record in this context refers to segregating it from the state's main criminal record file system and ensuring its confidentiality (i.e. – reducing access to it). Incomplete as it is, sealing is the only way to "clear" a juvenile criminal record in Massachusetts. Comm. v. Gavin G. 437 Mass. 470, that "a Juvenile Court judge lacked the authority to expunge the probation record of a juvenile."
Sealing a juvenile record is possible once three years have elapsed since serving a sentence. This waiting period applies no matter what the particular circumstances. Sealing in effect removes from the record of the crime from the main record file, by securing the record in a separate, generally inaccessible, confidential file. Generally, only judges can see these records, mainly for use in any later criminal cases against the same person. If anyone in the police or courts asks about the juvenile record, they're told the record was "sealed delinquency over 3 years old." Anyone else who asks – including you or your attorneys - is told that the person has "no record."
What exactly is a juvenile record? It is the juvenile equivalent of an adult Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI). A juvenile is anyone between the ages of 7 and 17Interactions with the police and legal system tend to create juvenile records in Massachusetts. Juvenile records are restricted-access pieces of information, stating what crime the juvenile was suspected of, and what ultimately happened in the case. Specifically, you have a juvenile record on file if:
- You were accused of committing a crime in Massachusetts between the ages of 7 and 17,
- You have appeared in court and been formally arraigned.
The only exceptions to this are when the accused child committed a serious crime, for which he was treated as an adult and tried in adult court. That creates an adult CORI instead of a juvenile record. Though they may largely similar information, juvenile records are more restricted than their adult counter-parts: only law enforcement and social services agencies, probation departments (where relevant) and courts can access a juvenile record. A CORI is readily available public information – information that often wreaks havoc on the record holder's life in the form of employment, housing, and other difficulties. The information in a juvenile record is not public, though it can be used against the record holder if arrested again. Because juvenile records in Massachusetts are not destroyed once the subject reaches the age of 17, a record can significantly influence a judge's in setting bail or determining sentencing for any crimes, at any time, for the rest of a subject's life.
Whether you really need to seal your juvenile criminal record depends on your particular circumstances. The record is never erased completely, and unlike adult records, juvenile records are already unavailable to most entities or people that could cause you any practical difficulty (e.g. – employers, banks, landlords, etc). Remember, there is a 3-year waiting period, and in no case is the record destroyed. Seriously consider hiring an attorney to help you through these decisions. (See the article on Process for Sealing Juvenile Records for details regarding forms, procedure, and more).
For more information on getting your record sealed or expunged, consult a qualified record expungement attorney in Massachusetts.
For other articles on Massachusetts expungement of criminal records, click on the following: