Mass Supreme Judicial Court eases standard for sealing of criminal record

By: Tom Egan August 15, 2014

The Supreme Judicial Court has decided to make it easier to get a criminal record sealed.

In 2010, the Legislature enacted extensive reforms to the criminal offender record information (CORI) scheme, extending access to official CORI records to more employers, housing providers and other organizations, for limited use, while simultaneously broadening the scope of the sealing provisions to enable more individuals to shield their records from public view.

“Given the demonstrable legislative concern in these reforms about the negative impact of criminal records on the ability of former criminal defendants to reintegrate into society and obtain gainful employment, particularly in an age of rapid informational access through the Internet and other new technologies, it is apparent that the stringent standard for discretionary sealing we articulated nearly twenty years ago, in Commonwealth v. Doe, 420 Mass. 142, 149-152 (1995), no longer achieves the proper balance of interests,” Justice Robert J. Cordy wrote for a unanimous court. “We … now set forth a new standard for determining when substantial justice would best be served by the sealing of certain criminal records under G.L.c. 276, §100C, second par.”

Judges evaluating a petition for sealing “should evaluate the particular disadvantages identified by the defendant arising from the availability of the criminal record; evidence of rehabilitation suggesting that the defendant could overcome these disadvantages if the record were sealed; any other evidence that sealing would alleviate the identified disadvantages; relevant circumstances of the defendant at the time of the offense that suggest a likelihood of recidivism or of success; the passage of time since the offense and since the dismissal or nolle prosequi; and the nature of and reasons for the particular disposition,” the SJC concluded.

The 46-page decision is Commonwealth v. Pon