Lead Sponsor: Senator Jamie Eldridge
Summary: This bill empowers the Commonwealth to expunge a criminal record where the defendant was mistakenly brought into the criminal justice system because of misidentification, fraud, or procedural error.
The bill would also allow records of youthful offenders to be sealed. The language mirrors the existing law that provides for the sealing of juvenile records, but increases (from 3 to 5 years) the timeline at which a record can be considered for sealing. The bill also deals with the expungement of juvenile records. It incorporates some of the methods used in handling the expungement of juvenile records in California and allows any juvenile record sealed under existing Massachusetts law, section 100B of chapter 276, to be expunged (completely destroyed) five years from the date of sealing. If a person does not apply to the commissioner by his or her 18th birthday to seal his or her record, the commissioner can determine whether a person is eligible to have his or her record expunged 10 years from the date of his or her 18th birthday.
Why This Matters: Right now, it is not possible to permanently erase a criminal record in Massachusetts. This is unfair to people who, through no fault of their own, are charged with a crime (or “arraigned”) because of a mistake in the criminal process. In 2006, an innocent Boston woman was mistakenly arraigned after being misidentified by the police, and then erroneously told to go to the wrong courtroom. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2010 that the woman could not have her record erased (or “expunged”), even though the criminal charge was obviously a mistake, because no law existed that allowed the court to erase her record.
With regard to juvenile records, although the Massachusetts legislature protects the confidentiality of juvenile records from the general public, records are still available to numerous organizations, such as schools, future employers, local law enforcement, etc. These records, which are typically kept electronically, will not disappear when the juvenile reaches the age of the majority nor are they sealed unless by individual petition.
What this Bill Would Do: The bill would require the court to expunge records of a person who had been falsely accused due an identification error, fraudulent statements made in court, or court staff and police error. In addition, the bill would allow youth offenders to request that the commissioner seal their records provided that the individual has not been found guilty of any criminal offense within five preceding years. A juvenile record sealed by the commissioner will be expunged five years from sealing. Charges that are expunged would not disqualify a person in employment application or application or appointment for public employment.
View the full text of the bill and track its history here.