Chapter 256 of the Acts of 2010 (aka The Massachusetts CORI Reform Bill) makes several important changes the way criminal offender record information (CORI) is handled in Massachusetts.
The most talked about changes to the CORI laws are the shortening of waiting period for convictions and the removal of the prohibition against sealing dismissals that resulted after a continuation with a finding (CWOF). But the CORI Reform Bill also made significant changes to the extent to which somebody can access your CORI.
Most of the changes in access are embodied in G.L. ch. 6, section 172, 172B-172K. The four main levels of CORI access, from highest to lowest, are 1) criminal justice agencies, 2) requestors authorized or required by statute to access CORI, 3) employers, landlords, evaluators of volunteers, professional or occupational licensing boards, and 4 ) the general public.
Access by Criminal Justice Agencies
Under the new law, "criminal justice agencies" (i.e. the police, the district attorney's office, the courts) have the same level of access to UNSEALED CORI as under the old law. That is, criminal justice agencies can see convictions, non-convictions and pending cases (so-called "all available criminal record information"). Under the new law, criminal justice agencies and firearms licensing authorities have a greater access to SEALED CORI, and can access all convictions, non-convictions (this includes straight dismissals, dismissals following a CWOF, not guilties and nolle prosequis) and pending cases even if the CORI has been sealed.
Access by Requestors Authorized or Required by Statute to Access CORI
These entities may have a higher level of CORI access than employers/landlords/professional licensing boards (see next section) IF a statute grants said entity a high level of access. It really depends on the identity of the requestor. For example, if the requestor is a children's camp or a nursing home, statutes authorize this requestor to obtain "all available criminal record information" in evaluating a prospective employee or volunteer. This would include non-convictions like dismissals. NOTE: This level of CORI access applies only to UNSEALED CORI. If someone has a SEALED CORI, these requestors will be told the person has NO RECORD, regardless of the statutorily granted enhanced level of CORI access.
Access by Employers, Landlords, Volunteers and Licensing Boards
Under the new laws, these types of requestors can see: 1) felony convictions for 10 years following the disposition; 2) misdemeanor convictions for 5 years following the disposition; 3) "pending criminal charges", which are cases which are not yet disposed of AND cases that are continued without a finding (CWOF) but not yet dismissed.
The ability for an employer/landlord/volunteer evaluator/licensing board to see a CWOF prior to the CWOF being dismissed is significant. This means that even though a person was not convicted of the crime (a CWOF is not a conviction), this type of requestor could still see a CWOF, until that CWOF is dismissed at the end of probation. After the CWOF is dismissed, it will not appear on the CORI that is sent to this type of requestor.
The above situation involves UNSEALED CORI. As with other non-criminal justice agency type requestors, if you get your CORI sealed, these types of requestors will be told you have NO RECORD
Access by the General Public
Under the new law, the general public is limited to 1) felony convictions, but only for felonies punishable by a 5 or more years in prison, regardless of how long ago the conviction occurred; 2) information about a person convicted of any crime AND sentenced to any term of imprisonment AND at the time of the request is either incarcerated, on parole or on probation; 3) felony convictions for crimes punishable by less than 5 years in prison. but only for 2 years following the conviction and including any period of incarceration; 4) misdemeanor convictions for 1 year following the conviction and including any period of incarceration.
The above situation involves UNSEALED CORI. As with other non-criminal justice agency type requestors, if you get your CORI sealed, these types of requestors will be told you have NO RECORD.
The Myth of the Sealed CORI Red Flag
The most often touted reason against sealing one's CORI is that requestors will be told you have a sealed CORI, and will draw an even more negative inference than they would have if they simply knew of the criminal charges in the first place. This is a myth, and needs to be dispelled.
If a person has a sealed CORI, non-criminal justice agency requestors will be told that person has NO RECORD. Requestors will NOT be told the person has a sealed record. From General Laws chapter 276, s. 100C: "The commissioner or the clerk of courts in any district or superior court or the Boston municipal court, in response to inquiries by authorized persons other than any law enforcement agency or any court, shall in the case of a sealed record report that no record exists."
While CORI reform has helped in some ways in limiting the negative consequences of criminal charges on one's CORI, it has actually increased the level of access for certain requestors in situations where the CORI is unsealed. Sealing one's CORI is usually the best short-term and long-term course of action and gives you the peace of mind that your CORI will not come back to haunt you in the future.
Additional resources provided by the author
The Law Office of Dominic L. Pang - CORI Help Toll-Free Number: (855) CORI-HELP
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