Prosecutors explain how to get a criminal conviction off your record

  • Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni speaks to those gathered at a information session for expunging or sealing criminal records. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2020 11:39:27 PM

HOLYOKE — Maria Carrero has seen firsthand how quickly people’s lives can change when a court seals their criminal records.

Carrero, a program specialist at Wayfinders in Springfield, said she’s helped someone through the process once before. Past decisions can follow a person, she said, oftentimes restricting access to jobs and housing — even if the person hasn’t been in trouble with the law for years.

“It’s important to get these things taken care of in order to get out of homelessness and be self-sufficient and to be able to get a job. There’s nothing like having a clean CORI to be able a job — a decent job,” Carrero said, referencing the name of Massachusetts’ criminal records, which stands for Criminal Offender Record Information.

Carrero was one of about 70 people who turned out at the Holyoke Public Library on Thursday morning to learn from the Hampden District Attorney’s Office about the process of sealing or expunging a criminal record. Generally, sealing a criminal record takes it out of the public’s view and does not show up on CORI checks, though some agencies can access it; expunging a criminal record permanently destroys it and is a much rarer step than sealing.

At the library, Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni explained that his office, as prosecutors, cannot give legal advice. Instead, Gulluni said the event was to inform people about the “very important rights” that exist for sealing and expungement under state law.

“Folks who have made mistakes, folks who have had tough times in their lives have paid their debt to society and have the right to move on,” Gulluni said. “That’s fundamental to what we do to our Constitution and to our country.”

First Assistant Hampden District Attorney Eduardo Velázquez began by explaining the difference between sealing and expunging criminal records, calling them “vastly different animals.”

If a person wants to have their criminal record sealed in a conviction, a person can send a petition form that can be found on a state website to the Commissioner of Probation. In cases that resulted in an acquittal, dismissal or continuance without a finding, a person can send a petition to seal directly to the court where a case was heard.

But there are certain criteria that must be met before a person can petition for their record to be sealed in cases of convictions, Velázquez said. In cases of misdemeanors, a person must wait three years from the end of any sentence to petition for sealing. For felonies, the time period is seven years. There is a 15-year waiting period for sex offenses, although level two or three sex offenders cannot seal their records, he said. If someone commits a new crime, a person’s record may then be unsealed.

Once a person’s record is sealed, Velázquez said, “doesn’t mean you walk away from it and it has no effect on you.” He said a judge can look at your sealed record when determining a sentence or during custody hearings, and attorneys could possibly use it while examining a person who has been called as a witness during a trial, among other reasons. Attorneys can only use your record during witness examination in trials if it is within five years of a misdemeanor or 10 years from a felony.

When a person’s record is sealed, regardless if they were guilty or not guilty, Velázquez said he believed a CORI check shows that the person has no criminal record.

“The intention was to keep the government from denying you advancement or housing or licensing because you have sealed your record. And it can’t be used against you,” he said. “It was principally for that reason why these statues were put on the books.”

An expungement of a criminal record, Velázquez said, is much rarer. There are two avenues of expungement, one that has a waiting period, and another that does not and is used in specific circumstances.

“Once a case is expunged, it can’t be un-expunged,” Velázquez said. “It would be almost impossible.”

The first avenue applies to first and only offenses from juvenile courts, and the same from adult courts if the person was under the age of 21, he said. The same waiting periods for sealing applies to this type of expungement, he said. But there is a list of 20 serious crimes that cannot be expunged under state law. Petitions for expungement must be sent to the Commissioner of Probation, Velázquez said, and the district attorney’s office will have the opportunity to weigh in.

In specific cases where a person’s identity was falsely used to commit a crime, or there was fraud or errors on behalf of courts or law enforcement, or if the crime one is convicted of is no longer a crime, a person can petition for expungement directly to the court without any time limits, he said.

Harry Jekanowski Jr. is the clerk of courts of Hampshire Superior Court and said that his office sees petitions to seal criminal records two or three times a month, on average. He said it can take days to weeks for a court to rule on a petition once it’s formally filed.

But Jekanowski said his office has not “had much experience with people coming in to have their criminal records expunged,” saying he believed most of those occurred in district courts and often included marijuana convictions.

“Most of the crimes we have are felonies that cannot be expunged,” Jekanowski said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.

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