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Massachusetts changes its expungement laws

The public's access to court records is a cornerstone of our society. However, we also have a certain level of right to privacy, which can be the premise for sealing or expunging records. Sealed records are kept but hidden from public scrutiny, while expungement involves erasing all record of the charge. If the court ordered process for sealing or expunging is complete, the individual is under no legal obligation to disclose that they have been arrested or convicted of whatever the original charge was.

The motives for doing this may be personal, but some common reasons why one would want to seal or expunge their record include:

  • It could give them better job prospects.
  • It could give them better education opportunities
  • It could impact one's ability to rent or buy a home
  • It could impact one's ability to secure a loan
  • It could impact one's ability to buy insurance
  • It could impact one's ability to legally purchase a firearm

Eligibility for expungement

While Massachusetts previously sealed instead of expunged records, there are new guidelines for expungement enacted in 2018, particularly related to juveniles. There are certain charges that usually are not expunged in Massachusetts. These include:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Felonies involving injury to others
  • Sexual battery or sexual assault
  • Corruption of a minor
  • Most weapons charges

Factors that can help an expungement case

An expungement of court records can be done if the defendant is not convicted after they were arraigned (there is a court record for arraignments). Expungement is also possible if the case involves false identification or identity fraud, or official error. The defendant has a good chance of sealing if they have a clean record since the initial charge and completion of sentence - as of 2018, it is 3 years if it was a lesser crime and 7 years if the conviction involved a felony.

The laws involving expungement changed at the beginning of this month. It is advisable to speak with a criminal law attorney about these changes and whether they are applicable. If so, they can provide legal guidance throughout the process.

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