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Sealing CORI in court


A judge in the court that handled the criminal case has the power to seal:

  • a first time drug possession conviction where the person did not violate any requirements connected to being on probation or a “CWOF” (continuance without a finding) such as going to drug treatment or doing community service;
  • any cases where you were found “not guilty;”
  • any cases that were dismissed or ended in a nolle prosequi (a case dropped by the District Attorney) even if you were on probation.

Before May 4, 2012, dismissed cases with supervised probation were treated like convictions and could not be sealed by a judge.


If you are not a citizen, you need to consult with an immigration lawyer before sealing your records. You will need certified copies to apply for citizenship at a later time and certified copies of papers from your case(s) for hearings on your immigration status.  If your cases are sealed, you might miss a deadline to file copies of the criminal records in time for your immigration case.

It often is a good idea to get a certified copy of the complaint and docket and the police report in case you need it in the future. If you apply for a job with the federal government (U.S. Census, Social Security Administration, IRS, etc.), an FBI background check usually shows a criminal case was filed, but it may not say what happened at the end of the case. You can use the certified copies to explain what happened in your case without having to go back to court to unseal your record.

Burden of proof

The level of proof you must show to seal a case is high and public notice of your hearing on a petition to seal is posted at the courthouse.  The judge only can seal the record if leaving the record open puts you at risk of harm and your interest in sealing the record is greater than public’s constitutional right (under the First Amendment of the Constitution) to see the record.  The judge must find there is a “compelling interest” in sealing the record and that “substantial justice would be served” by sealing the record.

What to file

The process for sealing of cases in court is free.  To seal your cases, you need to file one or more of the following documents in the court that handled your criminal case.

Petition to Seal (Get this form online or at the courthouse)

Motion to Seal Records (usually required by courts that use  a 2 step hearing process)

To increase your chance of success in court, it may help to file other documents such as:

☐ An Affidavit (sworn statement) explaining how your CORI hurts you and why the judge should seal your case.  For example, you got rejected for jobs, internships, and/or housing, are unemployed, on public assistance because of your record.

☐ Support letters from professionals or others saying positive things about you and explaining how your CORI hurts you.  For example, after your last case, you got a GED,  finished job training or drug treatment, and are working hard to get your life on track, but you get rejected for jobs or other opportunities because of your CORI. See a sample changed person letter.

☐ Rejection letters from employers denying you jobs, especially if based on your CORI.

☐ Make copies of everything you file in court.

Sample Forms

Look at some sample forms that might be helpful to you in filling out your own forms:

Sample Petition to Seal for sealing CORI by mail.

Sample Petition to Court to Seal Adult or Juvenile Criminal Record and Motion to Seal Record This is just a sample to look at. To file this petition you need to get the special multi-colored, triplicate form from the court where your case was heard.

Changed Person Letter.

Where to file

If you want to seal cases in more than one court, you have to file paperwork in each court.  The only exception is Boston Municipal Court (BMC) which permits a person trying to seal 3 or more BMC charges to file a petition to seal all the BMC cases or charges in one division of the BMC.

To make sure you know about all your cases that might be sealed, get a copy of your CORI.

When to file

There is no waiting period to file a petition to seal a non-conviction.  However, if you are in jail or have criminal cases still going on in court, your case for sealing of records is weak.  Once a reasonable amount of time has passed after your last conviction and last court date, it may be easier to convince a judge that you are not likely to get in trouble with the law in the future and there is no need to keep your record open.

You have a right to look at your criminal case files at the courthouse.  This might be helpful if you have trouble remembering what happened in your cases or the CORI is unclear.

The legal standard to seal a criminal case

On August 15, 2014 the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decided to make it easier to seal criminal records in court.

If you show “good cause” to seal your records, a judge can seal cases that ended in:

  • a dismissal,
  • nolle prosequi - if the district attorney dropped the case, or there was a not guilty finding.

If a judge denied your petition to seal in the past, you can file a new petition in court. The judge will use the new "good cause" standard in your case.

It should be easier to seal your CORI now since you only have to show "good cause."

You have good cause to ask the court to seal your CORI when you were not found guilty if:

  • having CORI stops you now or may stop you in the future from:
    • getting a job, 
    • keeping your job,  
    • working as much as you need, or
    • advancing in your job - like getting a promotion, an internship, a better or higher paying job,
    • volunteering at your child's school, 
    • volunteering for community activities, or
    • getting housing; 
  • you are homeless, or at risk of homelessness because you have CORI;
  • You or your family are on public assistance even though you are trying to get a job;
  • A lot of time has passed since the case was filed against you;
  • You are sober and have made efforts to rehabilitate yourself;
  • You have made efforts toward self-improvement - like taking classes, programs, getting your GED, degree, or certificate;
  • You volunteer or help others in your community;
  • You completed probation successfully;
  • You have not had further contact with the criminal justice system;
  • You tried to rehabilitate yourself since the date of the offense or dismissal;
  • you are no longer in the same situation you were at the time of the offense - for example,  you were a teenager then;
  • people think the crime you were arrested for is especially bad so they will not hire you - for example, you were homeless, you did not see anyone around and you relieved yourself outside because no toilet was available, but the police arrested you for "indecent exposure";
  • The reason for dismissal or nolle prosequi is relevant to sealing your case - for example, you were innocent or the police arrested you by mistake; or
  • having CORI is causing trouble for you.

The court process

After you file your paperwork in court, you will have one or two hearings. If the court uses a two step process, the judge enters an order at the first hearing deciding whether it is likely your case(s) will be sealed based on your circumstances. If the judge rules in your favor, a second hearing will be scheduled where the judge will make the decision about whether to seal your record(s). Notice of the second hearing will be posted in the court house in or near the clerk’s office. The District Attorney will be notified of the hearing.

If the court uses a one step process, they post notice of the hearing in the clerk’s office and you must appear at the hearing which will be your final hearing.

If you lose at a hearing, you should seek legal advice from an attorney immediately.

Job applications after you seal your record

If an employer, including a state, county, and/or city government employer in Massachusetts seeks information about your sealed case, you may answer “no record” as to the sealed record.

Produced by Greater Boston Legal Services
Last updated Sept 2014


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