Massachusetts law about criminal records

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases and web sources on criminal record law.

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.

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, Ch. 69 An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform

St. 2018, Ch. 72 An Act Implementing the Joint Recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review

Massachusetts regulations and executive orders

803 CMR Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services
101 CMR 15  Health and Human Services criminal record checks
110 CMR 18  Department of Children and Families criminal offender records check

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

Forms

CORI forms and information, Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services. An extensive list of forms relating to access to and sealing of CORI records. 

CORI forms and sample letters, Mass. Legal Help. 
See Mass. Legal Help's CORI section for guidance in selecting and using these forms.

Forms and information to seal your criminal record

Reading a CORI

  • Crimes 
    An abbreviated version of the Master Crime List, this is a list of common offenses with their MGL chapter and section references
  • How do I read my CORI? , Mass. Legal Help.
    Simple explanation of how to read a CORI report
  • Sample criminal record, Mass. Criminal History Systems Board
    Provides a sample of what a CORI request response will look like

Accessing your own CORI

How do I get a copy of my 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
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

Web sources

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)?"

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

Who can see my CORI?, Mass. Legal Help
Lists the types of people and organizations who have access to your criminal record

Housing and CORI access

Housing and CORI, 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

Laws

  • 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.

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.
  • Human services jobs and your CORI , Mass. Legal Help
    Human services agencies face restrictions on who they may hire, depending on the criminal record involved. Outlines the laws and how to overcome obstacles in working for human services if you have a criminal record.
  • 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

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

Court Rules

Cases

  • 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. Boe , 456 Mass. 337 (2010)
    A judge does not have the authority "to order the Commissioner of Probation (commissioner) to expunge a defendant's record where the criminal complaint was dismissed because its issuance was premised on a mistake." "Massachusetts appellate decisions have construed the unambiguous language of G.L. c. 276, § 100C , as conferring on a judge the authority, in appropriate circumstances, to order sealing, but not expungement, of the probation and court records of dismissed prosecutions."
  • 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. 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."

Web sources

  • Are there some crimes that can never be sealed?, Mass. Legal Help, 2017.
    Provides information on the types of convictions that can never be sealed in Massachusetts.
  • 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.
  • Massachusetts restoration of rights, pardon, expungement and sealing, Margaret Love, 2018.
    Covers restoration of civil rights, pardon, sealing, expungement, and nondiscrimination in licensing and employment.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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

Print sources

Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) law / editor, Pauline Quirion ; authors, Evan P. Bell. [and others]. MCLE New England, 2019.

Massachusetts Practice:

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Last updated: August 20, 2019
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