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Expungement in Massachusetts: Are you Eligible?

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Do you have a criminal record that you want expunged? Contact Lauren Weitzen to see if she can help you. 

While expungement in Massachusetts was previously only an option under extremely narrow circumstances (namely, false identification, demonstrable errors, or a fraud perpetrated upon the court), since July 2019, under the state’s recent criminal justice reform bill, eligibility for expungement has been expanded with the goal of reducing the negative impact of prior criminal involvement. However, it is still available upon meeting certain requirements. Consideration of the charged offense, age at the time of the incident, the outcome of the charge, and the existence of any other criminal record, will determine whether or not expungement is an option. 

Unlike sealing, which only limits who has access to various criminal justice records, expungement is the permanent erasure or destruction of all records and documents pertaining to the underlying criminal case. Due to this finality, expungement does not occur automatically. Instead, the Legislature has enacted strict requirements for expungement and a detailed process for seeking relief.

The requirements, as set forth in G.L. c. 276 §§ 100I-J, include:

  • The offense may not be one of the various excluded offenses that prohibit expungement. These offenses include, but are not limited to offenses resulting in death, sex offenses, and some violent offenses;
  • The offense, including any incarcerated sentence or probation, must have taken place over 7 years ago for felonies and over 3 years for misdemeanors; and
  • The petitioner must certify: (1) that he/she was under 21 at the time of the offense; (2) that he/she has no other criminal record; and (3) that he/she is not currently under criminal investigation.

If you satisfy these requirements, regardless of how your case resolved – with a conviction, a juvenile adjudication, or a dismissal/nolle prosequi/not guilty – you may be eligible for expungement. In addition, if your record includes an offense that is no longer a crime, such as marijuana possession, you may be eligible for expungement and the above listed requirements need not apply. G.L. c. 276 § 100K.

The expungement process begins with the filing of a petition to the Commissioner of Probation, followed by a review by the appropriate District Attorney’s Office, and is concluded by determination made by a judge. Even if you are eligible, a judge must find that it is “in the best interests of justice” to expunge the record. G.L. c. 276 §§ 100F-H. In reaching this conclusion, the judge will review your petition documents and may require a hearing as well.

Prior obstacles to gainful employment or volunteer opportunities and/or the fear of eliciting a shameful snapshot of one’s past can be eliminated with an order for expungement. Once expunged, a petitioner may answer that he/she has “no record” if asked by a potential employer about prior arrests, criminal court appearances, or convictions and the records are no longer exist, even for law enforcement. Further, the offense may not disqualify the person from public employment in Massachusetts or be used again him/her in any proceeding before a court, board, or commission.

You may only take one bite at the apple for expungement – if denied, you may not try again at a later time. Lauren Weitzen can help determine your eligibility, navigate the required process, and assist in advocating for successful expungement.

Note: During the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the Commissioner of Probation can still accept petitions to seal and expunge and will process as much as they can remotely.