How can I get my own CORI?
Before you get to the top of a waiting list for housing, you should request your CORI to see what is in it, whether there are any errors and to double-check that your name does not match up with someone else's criminal record. Once you see your CORI report, you may also find out about records that you may be able to have sealed—that is, removed from the public domain.
To request your CORI record, you must submit a CORI Request Form to the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS). Or, you can use the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services' new online criminal history request service called iCORI.
CORI Request Form
If you use the CORI Request Form, you will need a notary public to notarize your signature. Do not sign the form until you find a notary. You can find notaries in city or town clerk's offices, local banks, real estate offices, lawyers' offices, and travel agencies. In Massachusetts, notaries may charge no more than $1.25 for notarizing a document.
There is a fee of $25 for your CORI. After you have the request form notarized, mail it according to the instructions along with a check or money order for the $25 fee and a stamped envelope addressed to yourself.
If you cannot afford the fee, you can also submit an Affidavit of Indigency requesting that this fee be waived (not charged).40 You qualify for a waiver if:
- you receive public assistance such as SSI, EAEDC, TAFDC, Medicaid/Commonhealth, or Veteran's Benefits; or
- Your income after taxes is under 125% of the current poverty guidelines (See Federal Poverty Guidelines or
- You are unable to pay the fee without depriving yourself or your family of the necessities of life such as food, shelter and clothing. If you only qualify under (C), then you must submit a Supplement to Affidavit of Indigency form with more information. You do not have to submit the Supplement if you qualify under (A) or (B) above.you should be able to get a waiver.
The Affidavit of Indigency is attached to the CORI request form.
You should get a copy of your CORI in the mail about two weeks after submitting your request. However, processing times can vary. The DCJIS posts the current processing times on their website.
Your CORI report may not match the version of your CORI report that a housing agency gets. For example, if you had a case that was dismissed or you were found not guilty, your CORI report should show these cases, but a housing agency's CORI report on you should not. Therefore, never give or show your CORI report to a housing agency, because it may reveal information that they would not otherwise find out. Also, it is illegal for a housing agency to require you to provide them with a copy of your CORI.41 They must get it themselves.
If you have an advocate, he or she can request your CORI for you, by filling out the Advocate Request Form.
How do I read my CORI?
CORI reports were originally made to be used by police, courts, probation officers, and other law enforcement agencies. Now, many people and organizations are allowed access to CORI reports. But the reports are still written using law enforcement codes instead of plain language. They are often filled with abbreviations and acronyms. See How do I read my CORI, and Crime Glossary for guides to some of the common abbreviations you will find on your CORI.
If you cannot understand something on the CORI, you can call the probation office at the court where the case was heard and ask if one of the probation officers can explain the entry. The DCJIS also has a useful sample of a CORI on its website.
What can I do to make my CORI better?
There are several steps you can take to correct and improve a CORI report.
Check your CORI for mistakes
If there are errors in your CORI for example, if your CORI says you were found guilty, but in fact your case was continued without a finding and later dismissed you should try to get this corrected. The corrected version showing that the case was dismissed should not be accessible to the housing authority.
Go to the local court where the charge was handled and ask for a copy of the docket entry sheet which states what actually happened in the case. Take this to the probation office and ask the probation officer to change the database to show what the docket sheet says. If the probation officer agrees, the correction should be entered within 24 hours, but, because delays can happen, you may need to monitor this. Once the probation office makes a correction, the DCJIS's database automatically changes.
If the probation office will not make the change, go to the chief probation officer of that court and request the change. If that does not work, you can file a complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Probation (OCP) at 617-727-5300. If all of this fails, you may request that the DCJIS review your requests and order the probation office to make the correction.42 For more information see Correcting a Record.
Check your CORI for misidentification or identity theft
Your CORI report may in fact have the criminal record of someone else who has a name similar to yours. If that is the case, complete the CORI complaint form provided by DCJIS.
In addition , someone may have used your name as an alias. If you see that the name and criminal record of another person is on your CORI, you can complete a petition to be considered a victim of identity theft.43 See the DCJIS's Enrollment in Identity Theft Index for more information.
Clear up defaults
If you failed to appear in court for a case and have a default on your record, talk to a criminal attorney to assess any risk in clearing it up. If you had an attorney for the original case, see if that person is willing to give you advice and help you. For more information, see What if I have a default warrant on my record?
Deal with the probation or continuance without a finding
If you are on probation or your case was continued without a finding, you should ask the probation officer to write you a favorable recommendation telling the housing agency or landlord that you are complying with the terms of your probation. You can also ask your attorney to request the court to shorten the continued-without-a-finding or probation period, but you should be sure to discuss the pros and cons of doing that.
Ask the court to revise and revoke your sentence
Sometimes, though rarely, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to file a motion and get a sentence revised and revoked.44 A motion should be filed within 60 days after a judge imposes a sentence or 60 days after any order from an appellate court.45 For example, a guilty finding could be revised and revoked to a dismissal and then sealed. While this is being done, if you are challenging the denial of housing, the housing agency should hold your appeal open for up to 90 days.46
If you are low-income and meet certain income guidelines, you have a right to a public defender or a private attorney that is appointed by the court to help you file a motion to revise and revoke. If you did not originally have a public defender or appointed counsel or you feel that that attorney was somehow ineffective or failed to adequately represent you, contact your local bar advocate program in writing and ask them to assign an attorney to you for the motion. See a list of County Bar Advocate Programs.
Petition to seal your record
Depending on the age and nature of the offense, you may be able to seal a record. While a sealed record still remains as part of your record, sealing it means most requesters, including housing agencies, will not see the sealed record. See How do I seal a criminal record? for more detailed information.
How do I seal a criminal record?
Getting a record sealed means that the record is moved to a separate database and is not available to most requesters. The laws relating to sealing a criminal record can be quite complicated. In addition, the law may change due to pending legislation. Consult the CORI section on MassLegalHelp for any changes or updates.
If you are on a housing waiting list, try to get eligible records sealed before you reach the top of the list. You may be able to get a record sealed by the court that dealt with the case if it ended favorably; or, if there was a conviction and a certain amount of time has passed, you may be able to get it sealed by the Office of the Commissioner of Probation.
Some offenses are not eligible for sealing. Sex offenders who are required to register are not entitled to relief under the sealing laws.47 In addition, certain convictions relating to firearms, crimes against public justice, and the State Ethics Act are not sealable.48
Sealing convictions or orders of probation
For cases where there was a conviction (where you pled guilty, were found guilty, or were sentenced), or your case was continued without a finding with probation, you can get the case sealed only after a certain amount of time has passed. Massachusetts law allows certain criminal records to be sealed after a waiting period. Misdemeanor convictions may be sealed after 10 years; felony convictions may be sealed after 15 years. The waiting period for each case begins at the final disposition of that case. The final disposition is when the case ends, such as when a person is released from prison, when probation ends, or when parole ends—whichever is later.
However, a case cannot be sealed, even if the 10 or 15 years have passed, if, in the 10 years before you ask for a case to be sealed, you have any new convictions, except for certain minor traffic offenses. So the waiting period for sealing a case starts with the final disposition of the most recent conviction. In addition, sometimes the Commissioner of Probation will not seal any case record of a particular person until all the cases on the record can be sealed.49
If you are trying to get a conviction sealed after the 10- or 15-year waiting period has passed, you need to get a form called a Petition to Seal from the Sealed Records Division of the Commissioner of Probation. There is no fee for this form. Fill this form out and send it to the Commissioner of Probation.
"Controlled substance" (drug) laws provide special sealing provisions.50
Sealing cases that ended favorably
Cases that ended favorably (non-conviction cases), such as by a not guilty finding from a judge or jury, by nol prosse (prosecutor’s decision not to try the case), or by a dismissal (which is not after termination of an order of probation), can be sealed as well, but you must use a different process. You must go to court and have a judge decide if the record of the case should be sealed.51
For non-conviction cases, you must get a form (which may also be referred to as a Petition to Seal) at any court or to the Office of the Commissioner of Probation. However, after you fill it out you must file it in the court where your case was heard. Unfortunately, the process to get these types of cases sealed has become complicated. Before taking any action, you may want to read the materials available in the CORI section on MassLegalHelp.
Juvenile records are not accessible by landlords and housing authorities, and do not appear on your CORI. However, juvenile delinquency cases can be sealed using the same Petition to Seal referenced above after a waiting period of 3 years from the final disposition of the case, as long as there are
- no new adjudications or convictions (other than motor vehicle convictions with a fine under $50.00
- no delinquency commitments or imprisonments in the last 3 years; and
- the person is not required to register as a sex offender.52
Convictions that can be sealed with no waiting period
If the conviction was for an offense that is no longer a crime (such as possession of less than an ounce of marijuana), it can be sealed immediately, unless the elements of the charged offense are a crime under a different designation.53
In addition, a first time misdemeanor conviction for possession of some controlled substances in Massachusetts State Court can be sealed without a waiting period, but to do so, you must use the court process described above for cases that ended favorably.54
What can I do if I have a negative criminal history or a history of substance abuse?
If you have a negative criminal history or a history of substance abuse, you can be denied housing. However, there are a number of steps you may be able to take to persuade a housing agency or subsidized landlord that you will be a good tenant.
First, ask the housing authority or subsidized landlord for a copy of any and all information they used to make this decision. You have a right to appeal or challenge a denial of housing. If a private landlord that has been certified to receive access to CORI intends to deny your application for housing, you must be provided with an opportunity to challenge the accuracy or relevance of information the landlord has received before a final decision is made.55
For more information, see Challenging a Denial of Housing.
Challenge the accuracy and relevance of CORI
If a housing authority or subsidized landlord intends to deny your application for housing based on information in a CORI report, they must give you an opportunity to challenge the accuracy or relevance of the CORI they have received before they make a final decision. Regulations require all agencies certified to receive CORI to do the following:
- Inform you about which part of the criminal record appears to make you ineligible;
- Provide you with a copy of its CORI policy;
- Provide you with information about how to correct a criminal record;
- Upon receiving new documents from you or the Criminal History Systems Board, review the new information with you and inform you of the final decision.56
Present helpful information
You have a right to explain to a housing agency that there are circumstances which show that you will not engage in similar wrongful conduct in the future.57 Pull together the best information that you can to make your case. You can give this information to the housing agency before it gives you a decision about your application, and you also have a right to meet with the housing agency if they deny you housing. Information that can be helpful includes:
- Letters from counselors and social service agencies explaining that you have gone through rehabilitation.
- Evidence that shows your behavior was in self-defense or the result of domestic violence.
- Evidence that shows a change in circumstance—for example, the person with criminal history is no longer part of your household.
- Evidence that the offense was not serious or did not cause anyone harm.
- Evidence in a case file that shows a seemingly serious case was actually minor.58
Be able to explain your CORI
CORI reports are difficult to read and understand. If you have a CORI with lots of entries, a housing agency or subsidized landlord may conclude, without further study or investigation, that you have a long criminal record and should not be given housing. Your ability to explain your CORI may show, for example, that many entries relate to just one incident.
For more about how to read a CORI report, visit the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services website. See How do I read my CORI? and contact the probation office in the court where the case was heard if you have questions about what a code on your CORI means.
Request a reasonable accommodation
If your criminal history is related to a disability, you can request a reasonable accommodation.59 Alcohol dependency, past drug addiction, and mental or physical illnesses are all disabilities which may entitle you to a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation may be granted if, for example, you have a criminal history related to alcoholism but have participated in an alcohol treatment program and no longer drink alcohol. In a request for reasonable accommodation, you should show:
- The relationship between the criminal history and alcohol dependency, a mental or physical illness, or past drug addiction.
- Participation in or completion of an alcohol or drug rehabilitation program.
- Information about new mental health or other treatments or medications that address a prior problem with violent outbursts, stealing, or other criminal behavior.
Pick housing programs where you have the best chance
Review your CORI to determine the housing programs for which you might be qualified. Concentrate on applying to those programs. For example, depending upon your CORI, you could automatically be denied federal public housing, but you still could be eligible for state public housing. If you need help determining under which statute you were convicted, call the attorney who represented you in the criminal case. Probation officers and court clerks may also be helpful. For more information about specific reasons that you may be denied housing by each housing program, see Challenging a Denial of Housing.
There are also some housing opportunities—most often, transitional housing—for people with a criminal background or history of substance abuse. They are often small programs, and may be run by local organizations. Seek them out through your local Massachusetts Housing Consumer Education Center or your local Continuum of Care provider. More information about different housing programs is in Housing Programs in Massachusetts.
Ask that your application be put on hold
If you are awaiting trial on a criminal case, you can ask that the housing agency not act on the application until the case is over so that your housing application is not prejudiced. If, however, you believe that the criminal charge is so minor that it should not affect eligibility even if you are found guilty, you could ask the housing agency or landlord to make a decision now and not wait until final disposition of the criminal case.
If you are trying to have your CORI corrected, you should consider withdrawing your application until your CORI is fixed. The reason to consider doing this is that if you are denied, you may not be able to reapply for a certain amount of time, such as 18 months or longer, depending on the housing authority.
40 The Affidavit of Indigency and Supplement were adapted from the form prescribed by the Chief Justice of the SJC under G.L. c. 261, § 27B.
41 G.L. c. 6, § 172, ¶ 5, 3rd sentence.
42 G.L. c. 6, § 175; 803 C.M.R. § 6.08.
43 Identity theft cases are different and should be handled slightly differently. At this point, the Criminal History Systems Board’s position is that if someone has stolen your identity in connection with a criminal case, you need to correct this by filing a motion in court to purge your name and other identifying information from the criminal record of the identity thief or perpetrator. You may have to contact the Office of the Commissioner of Probation to find out when and in which court your name became associated with the criminal record of the identity thief. Then you need to file a motion in that court. If a judge allows your motion, bring this order to the probation office in that court and ask them to make the correction in the Probation Central File. If a judge denies your motion, then you should write the Criminal History Systems Board. Go to the CHSB’s website for more information.
44 Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 29.
45 There have been instances in which courts have accepted motions to revise and revoke even after the conclusion of the 60-day period.
46 803 C.M.R. § 5.05(10).
47 G.L. c. 6, § 178G.
48 For firearm offenses, see G.L. c. 140, §§ 121-131H; for crimes against the public, see G.L. c. 268; for state ethics violations, see G.L. c. 268A.
49 G.L. c. 276, § 100A, ¶¶ 1-4. G.L. c. 276, § 100B, permits juvenile delinquency files or records to be sealed after a three-year period.
50 See G.L. c. 94C, §§ 34 and 44.
51 G.L. c. 276, § 100C; Globe Newspaper Co. v. Pokaski, 868 F.2d 497, 510 (1st Cir. 1989 Commonwealth v. Doe, 420 Mass. 142, 150 (1995).
52 G.L. c. 276, § 100B and G.L. c. 6, § 178G.
53 G.L. c. 276, § 100A.
54 See G.L. c. 94C, § 34.
55 803 C.M.R. § 6.11.
56 803 C.M.R. § 6.11.
57 G.L. c. 121B, § 32, ¶ 12; 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(2 24 C.F.R. § 5.903(f).
58 760 C.M.R. § 5.08(2). The housing authority is to consider all relevant circumstances, including the severity of the conduct and the danger it caused, how much time has elapsed, and the likelihood of its recurring. See also G.L. c. 121B, § 32, ¶ 12.
59 Even a request for a reasonable accommodation does not mean that an applicant will be admitted into housing. See Hoose v. Boston Housing Authority, Dkt. No. 08-CV-240, Boston Housing Court, October 20, 2008 (court found that the BHA exercised reasonable discretion in denying applicant; disabled applicant was not entitled to a reasonable accommodation from screening rules because he had numerous convictions involving acts of violence, and the most recent conviction was less than a year old).