Massachusetts law about criminal records

Laws, regulations, cases and web sources on criminal record law.

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Table of Contents

Best bet

Know your CORI rights: sealing and expungement of criminal record information (CORI), Greater Boston Legal Services, 2018.
Great publication in question and answer form.  Covers everything from sealing of records to rights when interviewing for jobs, federal court sealing, and much more, with a set of forms attached. (CORI does not include restraining order cases or non-criminal matters such as DCF “51A” reports of child abuse or neglect. However, a criminal case may be filed if a restraining order is violated, or a child is abused.)

Massachusetts laws

Criminal Offender Record Information Act (CORI)

Mass. General Laws c. 6:

  • § 167 Definitions
  • § 167A Department of criminal justice information services
  • § 168 Criminal record review board
  • § 168A Transmission of probation and parole records to the department
  • § 168B Rules and regulations
  • § 168C Post-secondary schools; annual uniform crime reports; campus security policies
  • § 171 Regulations generally; continuing education program; evaluative information
  • § 171A Right of applicant to criminal history record prior to questioning or adverse decision; penalties for failure to provide applicant with criminal history information; maintenance of written criminal offender record information policy
  • § 172 Accessibility and dissemination of information; listing of agencies or individuals receiving information
  • § 172A Information request fee
  • § 172B Children and families department; youth services department; available information

St. 2018, c. 69 Criminal justice reform (text incorporated in General Laws above.)

St. 2018, c. 72 Implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts criminal justice review

Massachusetts regulations and executive orders

101 CMR 15 Criminal record checks (Executive Office of Health and Human Services)

108 CMR 15 Criminal offender record checks (Executive Office of Veterans Services)

110 CMR 18 Criminal offender records checks (Department of Children and Families)

803 CMR Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services

Executive Order 495 Regarding the use and dissemination of criminal offender record information by the executive department


Apply for a marijuana pardon certificate, Mass. Governor.
The Governor’s pardon forgives Massachusetts state court convictions before March 13, 2024 for what is commonly known as simple possession of marijuana. Most people will not need to take any action to have their criminal records updated. However, you may request a pardon certificate, which may help remove civil or legal restrictions because of the conviction.

CORI forms, Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services.
Forms and policies for organizations and individuals making CORI requests can be found here.

Court forms for criminal records, Mass. Court System and Probation Service.
A collection of court forms related to sealing and expunging criminal records.

Petition for expungement of marijuana offenses formMass. Court System and Probation Service.
This form can be used to petition the court for expungement of marijuana offenses that were based on now decriminalized amounts of marijuana.

Request to seal your criminal record, Mass. Probation Service.

Request not to seal criminal records, Mass. Probation Service.
For records entered on/after March 11, 2024: Complete and send this form to the Office of the Commissioner of Probation within 10 days to request that your criminal records not be sealed, under MGL c. 276, § 100C, Paragraph 1.

Reading a CORI

CORI reading: how to read criminal offender record information reports, Greater Boston Legal Services, 2019.
Explains common abbreviations and codes, and how to understand the information you see on a CORI report.

Master Crime List, Mass. Sentencing Commission. (June 2018)
Lists felonies and misdemeanors first by MGL reference, and then alphabetically by offense, specifying the penalty type and sentencing information. Easiest way to find penalties for particular offenses. See also the Interactive Master Crime List.

Sample criminal record, Mass. Criminal History Systems Board.
Provides a sample of what a CORI request response will look like.

Getting your own CORI

How to get a copy of your CORI, Mass. Legal Help.
Outlines the process and provides links to forms for requesting a copy of your own CORI.

iCORI: Request your own CORI online, Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services.
To request your own CORI, click on Register as an individual, and on the next screen answer Yes to "Would you like to request your own Personal CORI?"

Request a criminal record self-audit, Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services.
You can request a self-audit for your criminal offender information (CORI) form. This self-audit shows you all background check inquiries that another person or organization has made for your CORI form, except inquiries made for criminal justice purposes.

Access by the general public

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 6, § 178A Access by victims and witnesses

MGL c. 6, § 172(4) Access by general public under certain conditions

Web sources

Judicial Archives of the State Archives 
For information prior to 1860. The records for the various county courts (1636-1860) are in the Judicial Archives of the State Archives in Boston. For further assistance you may consult the Finding Aids for the County at the State Archives (Reference Desk) or Contact the Judicial Archives. You should try to find as much information about the case as you can before you contact them. We were told that the person's name, year of the trial, as well as the type of crime is helpful. The archivist suggested that local newspapers from around the time of the trial often provide detailed information.

Open access request form
Use to request open access CORI by mail. This form is only to be used to request CORI under the Open Access provisions of M.G.L. c. 6, § 172.

What you need to know about Massachusetts criminal records, Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services, 1st Edition, March 15, 2019.

Housing and CORI access

CORI and housing, Mass. Legal Help.
Explains the access of a housing authority or potential landlord to your criminal history, and how to obtain housing if you have a criminal record. Covers both public and private housing.

iCORI: Request CORI as a private landlord
To request CORI information as a private landlord, click on Register as an individual and on the next screen, answer Yes to "Are you a Private Landlord that wishes to request a tenant's or prospective tenant's CORI?"

iCORI: Request CORI as a realtor, public housing authority or property management company
To request CORI information in one of these categories, click on Register as an Organization and on the next screen, select Housing. You must then answer a series of questions about your organization to register.

Employment and CORI access


MGL c. 71, § 38R  Schools' access to criminal records; employees, contractors, and volunteers; use limited to protection of children

3 years  Info about misdemeanor

MGL c. 151B, § 4(9)
An employer may not "request any information, ... make or keep a record of such information, ... regarding:...any conviction of a misdemeanor where the date of such conviction or the completion of any period of incarceration resulting therefrom... occurred 3 or more years prior to the date of such application for employment or such request for information, unless such person has been convicted of any offense within 3 years immediately preceding the date of such application for employment or such request for information or ... a criminal record, or anything related to a criminal record, that has been sealed or expunged pursuant to chapter 276."

MGL c. 151B, § 4(9-1/2)  
An employer may not "request on its initial written application form criminal record information," unless very specific conditions apply.

MGL c. 15D, § 7 and § 8 Background checks for teachers
Teachers at schools and day care centers, bus drivers and others will be required to submit fingerprints for background checks.

Selected cases

Bellin v. Kelley, 435 Mass. 261 (2001)
According to this decision, an investigating police officer did not act wrongly in revealing an employee's CORI history to an employer. The decision further stated that an employer could fire the employee for the employee's failure to submit to a polygraph test. Summary judgments were thus granted for both the police officer and the employer who were among the defendants in the matter.

Doe v. Board of Registration in Medicine, 485 Mass. 554 (2020)
The board can't access records that have been sealed, when conducting a disciplinary proceeding. But where the board obtained an unsealed criminal record that was later sealed, they could use that record as a basis for discipline. They could not disclose the contents of the sealed record as the basis for their decision.

Web sources

Consideration of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, EEOC.
Under the guidance, background checks must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. When considering conviction records, employers must look at (1) the nature and gravity of the offense, (2) the amount of time that has passed since the offense, and (3) the nature of the position sought. According to the EEOC, arrest records are never job-related and consistent with business necessity because applicants must be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

Guide to criminal records in employment and housing, Mass. Attorney General.
Answers frequently asked questions and includes a form to file a complaint.

Jobs and CORI, Mass Legal Help.
Explains how employers get a copy of a CORI and what information they can see, and what employers are allowed and not allowed to ask about your criminal history before hire.

Massachusetts Ban the Box 2018: further amendments to criminal history and hiring law, National Law Review, December 7, 2018.
"Here is an overview of the general state of the law in Massachusetts, highlighting the recent changes. Employers may want to take this opportunity to review their background check policies and practices to ensure they comply with the law, as amended."

Access by court

Commonwealth v. Morse, 50 Mass. App. Ct. 582 (2000)
Appeals Court is entitled to access probation-related documents according to the Criminal Offender Records Information System, regardless of whether or not the records were included within the record of an appeal.

Media access and dissemination

Boston Globe's "Fresh Start" initiative, 2021.
This program allows people to ask the newspaper to update or anonymize past coverage of them online. "The 'Fresh Start' initiative is part of a broader effort to rethink the Globe’s criminal justice coverage and how it affects communities of color." 

iCORI: Request open access CORI online
To request CORI information as a member of the general public, click on Register as an individual and on the next screen, answer Yes to "Would  you like to request CORI as a member of the public (Open CORI)?"

Attorney General v. Plymouth County District Attorney, 484 Mass. 260 (2020)
The court ordered District Attorneys to produce a information on a broad group of records on criminal cases, except for the docket numbers of each case. 

Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, 483 Mass. 80 (2019)
"Show cause hearing records are not presumptively public...  Any member of the public, however, may request that the records of a particular show cause hearing be made publicly available, and a clerk-magistrate or a judge shall grant such a request where the interests of justice so require."

Boston Globe Media Partners v. Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services, 484 Mass. 279 (2020)
Booking photos and police reports that a newspaper requested from police related to the arrests of certain police officers were not exempt from disclosure under the public records law.

Globe Newspaper Co. v. District Attorney for Middle Dist., 439 Mass. 374 (2003)
Newspaper had sought disclosure of docket numbers of criminal cases involving municipal corruption, prosecuted in public judicial proceedings. Among its findings, court held that CORI statute did not prevent disclosure of criminal record information, but newspaper only had a disclosure right to the extent the requested information correlated with information available from court records or other public records.

Sealing, expungement, and pardons

Massachusetts laws

St. 2018, c. 69 Criminal Justice Reform Act

MGL c. 94C, § 34 Unlawful possession of particular controlled substances (provides for sealing of certain records)

MGL c. 94C, § 44 Violations of section 34; acquittal, dismissal or indictment nol prossed; sealing of records

MGL c. 233, § 21 Proof of conviction of crime to affect credibility

MGL c. 276, § 100A Requests to seal files

MGL c. 276, § 100B Requests to seal delinquency files or records

MGL c. 276, § 100C Sealing of records or files in certain criminal cases.

MGL c. 276, § 100D Access by criminal justice agencies

MGL c. 276, §§ 100E-100U Expungement of records

MGL c. 276, § 100K 1/4 Expungement of record resulting from marijuana cultivation, possession, and/or distribution (effective November 9th, 2022)

Court Rules

Boston Municipal Court Amended Standing Order 1-09: Sealing three or more eligible criminal records
For the sealing of 3 or more dismissals and non-conviction criminal records.


Chief of Police of Shelburne v. Moyer, 16 Mass. App. Ct. 543 (1983)
"Statute providing for sealing of record of a person convicted for possession of certain controlled substances does not preclude use by a chief of police...of departmental records which are not public records, maintained by police and other law enforcement agencies."

Comm. v. Gavin G., 437 Mass. 470 (2002)
While Juvenile Court judges have the authority to order expungement of police records, they do not have authority to order expungement of probation records.

Comm. v. K.W., 490 Mass. 619 (2022)
People previously arrested for cannabis crimes that have since been legalized are entitled to "a strong presumption in favor of expungement." This ruling makes it easier to expunge old charges.

Comm. v. Pon, 469 Mass. 296 (2014)
Establishes a new standard and procedure for sealing of a criminal case ending in a dismissal or entry of a nolle prosequi, making it easier to have those records sealed.

Comm. v. S.M.F., 40 Mass. App. Ct. 42 (1996)
"When statute governing sealing of certain criminal records is applicable, exercise of judicial power of expungement is no longer within authority of judge, but, when statute or other confidentiality statutes are not applicable, trial courts may invoke their inherent power to order expungement of criminal records."

Comm. v. Zoe, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 500 (2019)
When a criminal record is sealed under the automatic sealing procedures of G.L. c. 276, § 100A, a judge has "no authority to override the terms of the statute providing for such automatic sealing." Therefore, a motion to unseal the records was "moot from its inception."

In the Matter of an Impounded Case, 493 Mass. 470 (2024)
The SJC ruled that a petitioner's youthful offender records should be sealed under MGL c. 276, § 100B (the "juvenile delinquency sealing statute") rather than § 100A (the "adult criminal record sealing statute").

In the Matter of Expungement, 489 Mass. 67 (2022) 
Delineates the two-step process when expunging records under MGL c.276 § 100k.

Web sources

CORI and juvenile record sealing booklets, Greater Boston Legal Services.
A great series of booklets on how to seal different criminal or juvenile records.

Expunge your criminal record, Mass. Trial Court.
Having a criminal record expunged means that the record will be permanently destroyed so that it's no longer accessible by the court or any other state, municipal, or county agencies. It's not the same as having a record sealed. Find out who's eligible to have a record expunged and how to request to expunge your record.

Expungement packet under MGL c.276 § 100K, Greater Boston Legal Services, 2019.
Provides important guidance, and sample filled-in forms for expungement for false identification, error, or fraud.

Marijuana pardons, frequently asked questions, Mass. Governor.
On March 13, 2024, Governor Maura T. Healey announced a one-time, large-scale pardon effort for people with certain misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions.

Massachusetts restoration of rights, pardon, expungement and sealing, Restoration of Rights Project, Margaret Colgate Love, 2020.
Covers restoration of civil rights, pardon, sealing, expungement, and nondiscrimination in licensing and employment.

Never sealable crimes, Mass. Legal Help, 2019.
Provides information on the types of convictions that can never be sealed in Massachusetts.

Removing a Dookhan drug conviction from your record
Provides specific information on what to do if you have a drug conviction that involved Annie Dookhan and Drug lab cases info.

Request a non-time-based expungement of your criminal record, Mass. Court System.
Find out how to expunge your criminal record if the record was created as a result of fraud or specifically defined errors or the record was created based on an offense that's no longer considered a crime.

Seal your criminal record, Mass. Probation Service.
Depending on the conviction and the amount of time that has passed, you may be eligible to seal your criminal record. Find out if you're eligible to seal your criminal record and how to request to seal your record.

“Sealing and expungement after Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform,” by Pauline Quirion v. 100 Issue 4 Massachusetts Law Review 100 (August 2019).

Sealing my CORI, Mass. Legal Help.

Correcting a criminal record

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 6, § 175 
"Subject to appropriation, the department shall provide assistance to individuals that have requested assistance to correct inaccurate or incomplete criminal offender record information. Such assistance shall include but not be limited to cooperation with appropriate entities to correct, modify or appropriately supplement criminal offender record information that has been determined to be inaccurate or incomplete."

Web sources

Information concerning the process in correcting a criminal record, Mass. Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services.
Explains what to do about various types of errors you may find on your CORI report.

Print sources

Administrative law and practice, 2d ed. (Mass Practice v.39) West, 2017 with supplement.  Sections 17:21 thru 17:51.

Know your CORI rights: sealing and expungement of criminal offender record information (CORI), Boston: Greater Boston Legal Services, 2018.

Massachusetts criminal offender record information (CORI) law, 3rd ed., MCLE.

Contact   for Massachusetts law about criminal records

Last updated: May 15, 2024

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