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"Good cause" for sealing records

Produced by Greater Boston Legal Services
Last updated July 2019

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

  • a first time drug possession conviction where you did not violate any court orders connected to being on probation or a “CWOF” (continuance without a finding), such as going to drug treatment or doing community service.
  • any case where you were found “not guilty,” and any case that was dismissed or ended in a nolle prosequi (meaning it was dropped by the District Attorney.

Burden of Proof

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has made it easier to seal criminal cases through the court process. In Commonwealth v. Pon (2014), the SJC threw out the old legal standard for sealing of cases that was very strict. Under the new legal standard, you have to show “good cause” to seal a record. To show there is “good cause” to seal records, things that a judge can consider are:

  • You were denied a job or are at risk of unemployment or underemployment related to your CORI;
  • You have trouble getting housing, or are homelessness, or at risk of homelessness related to CORI;
  • Employers use CORI in your present occupation or an occupation you’d like to have;
  • CORI reduces opportunities for advancement (promotion, internship, better/ higher paying job
  • You and/or your family are on public assistance despite your efforts to get a job;
  • You have trouble volunteering or doing community activities due to CORI;
  • 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 (classes, programs, GED, degree, certificate.) ;
  • You do volunteer work and/or other work to help in your community;
  • You successfully completed probation in your case(s
  • You have had no further contact with the criminal justice system;
  • You have other evidence of rehabilitation from the date of the offense or dismissal;
  • Your situation at the time of the offense should be considered (e.g. you were a teenager
  • There is stigma or stereotypes related to the case that hurts your chances to get a job, etc.; and
  • The reason for dismissal or nolle prosequi and other information relevant to sealing your case(s).

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