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Sealing by Mail

Produced by Greater Boston Legal Services
Last updated July 2019

When do the waiting periods start to seal a case by mail?

There is a 3 year waiting period to seal a misdemeanor and a 7 year waiting period to seal a felony.

Convictions

If you were found guilty (“convicted”), the waiting period starts from the date you were found guilty or released from jail or prison (“incarcerated”)-- whichever is later.

Example

Steve was found guilty of a misdemeanor on May 4, 2017, was on probation for a year, and his case was closed on May 15, 2018. He can seal his case on May 4, 2020 – 3 years after he was found guilty-- by filling in, signing and mailing in a form to the Commissioner of Probation.

Every time you are convicted or incarcerated, the clock re-starts for another 3 years for a misdemeanor, and 7 years for a felony.

Examples

Tony was found guilty of a misdemeanor on March 17, 2011 and again on March 17, 2017, but he did not serve a jail sentence.

He cannot seal either case until March 17, 2020, which is 3 years after the last conviction.

Jane was found guilty of a misdemeanor and given a 1 year suspended jail sentence on May 4, 2017, but she later violated conditions of probation, spent a year in jail and was released on June 4, 2018.

She can seal her record by mail on June 4, 2021 which is 3 years after her release from incarceration.

Continuance Without a Finding (CWOF)

If you have a criminal case that was dismissed after a CWOF, the waiting period starts on the date of the CWOF.

Non-convictions

If you were found “not guilty” or your case was dismissed, or the District Attorney dropped the case (a “nolle prosequi), the 3 or 7 year waiting period runs from the date of this “disposition.”

Example

Mary’s misdemeanor case was dismissed on May 1, 2016. She can seal it by mail on May 1, 2019. If she does not want to wait that long, she can ask a judge to seal the case because the law permits courts to seal cases that ended in dismissal, nolle prosequi or a not guilty finding.

If Mary was convicted on May 1, 2018, of another misdemeanor, she would have to wait until May 2, 2021 to seal either case by mail. But she still can try to seal her case that was dismissed in 2016, in court.

Exceptions with longer waiting periods

Abuse prevention and harassment order misdemeanor exception          

Convictions for violations of abuse prevention and harassment prevention orders are treated as felonies for purposes of sealing records by mail and are subject to the 10 year waiting period.

Sex offense conviction exception

The waiting period for sealing of sex offense convictions that are sealable is longer than for other types of convictions.  Any conviction for a sex offense that required registering with the Sex Offender Registry is not eligible for sealing until 15 years after the very last event in the case, including the end of supervision, probation, or release from incarceration.

Are there cases that cannot be sealed at all, ever?

Yes. See Crimes that cannot be sealed.

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