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SJC Relaxes Standard To Seal Criminal Record

The Massachusetts Legislature amended the law in 2010 regarding the rights of former defendants who wanted to seal their criminal records.  On Friday, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a very important ruling clarifying the standard defendants must meet to have their criminal records sealed.  Click on Commonwealth v. Pon to read the opinion.

The Court began its analysis by recognizing that a balance needs to be struck between the public’s right of access to criminal court records and the government’s compelling interest in providing privacy protections for former criminal defendants.  Former defendants are more likely to commit new crimes if they cannot find lawful employment.  Having a criminal record that can be obtained by potential employers is a huge barrier for former defendants who are trying to get a job.  The Court acknowledged “that gainful employment is crucial to preventing recidivism, and that criminal records have a deleterious effect on access to employment.”

Under the old standard, former defendants had to prove that sealing their records was necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.  Under that standard, records were sealed only in exceptional circumstances.  Under the new standard, former defendants must show “good cause” to justify the sealing.  Judges will be responsible for balancing the interests of the former defendant with the public’s general interest to know.  Factors to be considered are: (1) the risks a former defendant faces (such as unemployment, underemployment, or homelessness) that result from having a non-sealed criminal record; (2) whether the former defendant has demonstrated he is rehabilitated (by successfully completing probation, for example); (3) whether the community may incur a safety threat if the record is sealed; (4) the former defendant’s personal circumstances (such as his age) at the time of the crime; (5) the passage of time since the crime; and (6) the manner in which the case was resolved in court (for example, was the case dismissed because the former defendant was wrongfully accused?).

This new standard is good news for any former defendant who has paid for his mistakes and is now making a good faith effort to become a productive member of society.  This chart provides helpful information about the current state of Massachusetts law regarding the sealing of criminal records.  Spring & Spring has successfully argued that their client’s criminal records should be sealed.  Contact the firm for a free consultation.

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