For some time now, there has been a lot of friction between the employer community in Massachusetts, and (generally speaking,) civil rights groups, over the issue of access to criminal records. Those records are maitained by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety under a system known as the Criminal Offender Records Information, or the CORI unit.
Broadly speaking, business and employers feel that they need and should have broad access to search the potential criminal records of job and housing applicants. When making these criminal records searches, employers typically like to go back many years, perhaps as many as 25 years or more. Opposing this viewpoint are civil rights groups representing ex-convicts and former prisoners, who argue that after a person is punished and pays his or her debt to society, they should be allowed to seal their criminal records and move on with their lives. Without the ability to seal their criminal records after staying out of trouble for a certain amount of time, they feel their ability to turn their lives around and start anew will always be limited, because background checks will always reveal their criminal records. Thrown into this controversy is the role of private background-screening companies, which make their money from businesses who pay them to dig way back into court records of mainly job and housing applicants. These companies have often been accused of reporting false or conflicting information about applicants to employers.
Despite all this controversy, the law governing CORI searches in Massachuetts has just been changed, and those changes took effect today, May 7 2012. As a result, if in the past you you have been convicted of a crime in Massachusetts – it could be Massachusetts OUI/DUI Driving Under The Influence of Alcohol, Massachuetts Gun and Firearms violations, a Massachusetts Assault and Battery charge, a Massachusetts drug offense, or a Massachusetts sex offense, to name a few, you should know about these new changes.
The changes will include a new, online system to make it easier for employers and landlords to conduct criminal background checks on applicants, but it will also limit searches to 10 years back. There is an exception for homicides and sex offenses. The search results in the new online system are also not supposed to include old arrests which did not result in a conviction. This is good news for people who have a criminal record, but hope to get on with their lives, get good jobs, and put their past behind them. But these people need to be made aware of these changes first.
The new amendments involve Massachusetts General Laws c. 276 100A, 100B and 100C. These amendments basically say that even if you once got in trouble with the law, if you stay out of trouble for a significant period of time, you can seal that criminal record and begin again with a clean slate. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor five or more years ago, that record is now eligible to be sealed. If you were convicted of a felony 10 or more years ago, it is now also eligible to be sealed. Prior to these amendments, a person had to wait 10 years to seal misdemeanors, and 15 years for felonies.
Importantly, the new amendment requires that between the time of your conviction, and the time of your application to seal your record, you must have no other convictions anywhere in the United States for the amount of time specified.
What if you are someone who believes that you shouldn’t have been charged with a crime in the first place? If you were charged with a crime, and the case was later terminated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a no bill was entered by a grand jury, you were found not guilty, or a dismissal was entered by the court, you now qualify to seal your record.
To take advantage of the new amendments, and to successfully seal your records, you should see a Dedham/Boston criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.