The Massachusetts Criminal History Systems Board will provide a copy of your "CORI," or your criminal history in Massachusetts, for a nominal fee of $25.00. You may authorize your attorney to receive this for you by signing an authorization in front of a notary public. An experienced criminal defense attorney would be able to walk you through the pros and cons of this process.
Evaluating your chances of getting a case sealed
Once he or she receives a certified copy of your record, a qualified criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you about whether it makes sense to try to seal a case or cases. There are many factors to consider: the nature of the charge, the disposition you received, the age of the offense, and the reason you are interested in having the case or cases sealed. You should consult with an attorney in order to make an educated decision in this regard.
Going forward with a petition to seal
If you decide that you would like to proceed, you should consult with an attorney to discover the specific process required at the court or courts in question. Each county and each court may have rules that are specific to that court alone. Some courts do not require your physical presence, and will allow your attorney to appear for you instead. Most courts require a posting of the petition at the courthouse, which raises other issues. Some courts require not one, but two court appearances, in order to get the petition allowed. Other require two. Again, consult with your attorney to learn what is required in your specific case.
As of May, 2012, Massachusetts has instituted new laws regarding access to criminal records. Under the old system, continued-without-a-finding dispositions, dismissals and not-guilty verdicts were all revealed on a CORI during a background check. Now, none of those favorable disposition are reported during background checks. Law enforcement can access those cases, however -- whether the charges are sealed or not.
Petitioning directly to the Commissioner of Probation
CORI reform also shortened the waiting period to seal convictions. For felonies, the waiting period was reduced from 15 years to 10 years after being released from confinement of probation. For misdemeanors, the waiting period was reduced from 10 years to 5 years. Once the waiting period has expired, you will not need an attorney to handle any petition to seal for you. You may complete a petition to seal form yourself and mail it directly to the Commissioner of Probation.