Sealing my CORI

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Greater Boston Legal Services

There are two ways to seal criminal records—by mail or in court.

  • Most criminal records can be sealed by mail after a waiting period.
  • Some cases can be sealed by in court, without a waiting period or by mail.

Some cases can never be sealed. See Never sealable crimes.

This article answers questions about how and when you can seal your CORI by mail or in court.

What does it mean to get a criminal record sealed?

Sealing your criminal record does not get rid of it, but fewer people can see it. After the records are sealed, most employers, landlords and others will not be able to see the records when they do a CORI check. When you apply for a job after your records are sealed, you can say "I have no record."

Before seaing your record, it often is a good idea to get a certified copy of the complaint, docket sheets 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.


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.

How do I seal my criminal records in Massachusetts?

There are two ways to seal criminal records—by mail or in court.

  • Most criminal records can be sealed by mail after a waiting period.
  • Some cases can be sealed either in court, without a waiting period, or by mail.

Some cases can never be sealed. See Crimes that cannot be sealed.

Sealing convictions

All convictions, except for a first time drug possession conviction, can only be sealed by mail after a waiting period of:

Sealing nonconvictions

If a case was dismissed or ended with a not guilty finding or a nolle prosequi (the prosecutor dropped the case), it can be sealed: 

  • by mail after a waiting period, or
  • in court with no waiting period. 
How do I seal a case by mail?

The process to seal criminal records by mail is free and very simple. You fill in the form Petition to seal, sign it and mail it to:

Commissioner of Probation      
One Ashburton Place, Rm. 405      
Boston, Ma 02150-1612 

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

When do the waiting periods start?


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.

How do I seal a case 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.

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:

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

  • Motion to Seal Records (usually required by courts that use a 2-step hearing process).
  • 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, housing, you are unemployed, or on public assistance because of your record. Include all of these things that are true.
  • Support letters from professionals or others that say positive things about you and explain how your CORI hurts you. For example, after your last case, you got a GED, finished job training or drug treatment, and your are working hard to get your life on track, but you get rejected for jobs or other opportunities because of your CORI. 
  • Rejection letters from employers denying you jobs, especially if based on your CORI.

Make copies of everything you file in court.

Where do I 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 can I 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 your 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.

What is the process to seal a criminal case in court?

After you file your paperwork in court, you will have 1 or 2 hearings.

If the court uses a 2-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 courthouse in or near the clerk’s office for at least 7 days.

If the court uses a 1-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.

What is the legal standard to seal a criminal case in court?

The legal standard to seal records is "good cause." To win your case, you must show you may be at a “disadvantage” in applying for a job or housing if the employer or landlord checks CORI.

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 cases,
  • 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).

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

What are misdemeanors and felonies?

A misdemeanor is a crime where you can be punished by a jail sentence of up to 2½ years, even if you do not go to jail or serve the maximum jail sentence. 

A felony is a crime where you can be punished by more than 2½ years  in jail, even if you do not go to jail or serve the maximum jail sentence.

You can see the Master Crime List of misdemeanors or felonies in Massachusetts.

Resource Boxes
More Resources
Help with CORI sealing
Cori - resources to get help with CORI sealing

Use the Legal Resource Finder to find free legal help to seal your CORI, including CORI sealing clinics on Zoom.


Learn more about CORI
CORI - more info box

Download self-help booklets about CORI, including CORI sealing, prepared by Greater Boston Legal Services.

The Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services has information, links to CORI forms, and more.



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