MBA urges broad reform of state CORI laws, shares proposed changes

Issue October 2007 By Jennifer Rosinski

Comprehensive reform to the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information laws are necessary to help those with criminal pasts turn into productive citizens, the Massachusetts Bar Association said at a Statehouse hearing Sept. 18.

MBA Criminal Justice Section Chair Lee J. Gartenberg, director of the Inmate Legal Services Office of the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, shared the MBA’s proposal while testifying before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at the Statehouse.

“It is important to have a system that both enhances public safety and allows people who have changed their lives in a positive way to continue to be successful, contributing members of society without having something that happened in the distant past preventing them from succeeding,” Gartenberg said.

The state’s current CORI laws hamper Massachusetts residents who are trying to obtain housing and jobs, and can haunt rehabilitated citizens trying to make a life for themselves and their families.

“Massachusetts could be and should be a leader in turning former felons into productive citizens,” said MBA President David W. White Jr., who has made criminal sentencing reform a priority.

“We should respect the efforts of the hard-working men and women of this state who have turned their lives around. We need to quickly reform our CORI laws to make that happen.”

The MBA’s House of Delegates adopted a report recommending changes to CORI in the spring of 2006 that focus on three areas: (1) who is granted access and to what records; (2) assuring the data is accurate; and (3) allowing people who have turned their lives around to seal their record within a reasonable period of time (and expunging entries when people are misidentified or no crime was committed).

The MBA supports the enactment of comprehensive CORI reform legislation, which includes the following goals:

• Establish clear and separate levels of CORI access: comprehensive access of an entire record for law enforcement, and limited access (containing only convictions and pending cases) for all non-law enforcement entities;

• Limit conviction information provided to all non-law enforcement entities only to findings or verdicts of guilty of an adult offense or an adjudication as a youthful offender, and include only the crime of conviction, not the original charge;

• Establish an educational program for recipients of CORI reports concerning the nature and purpose of the law and the proper use of information provided; and

• Develop a process to ensure within a reasonable time that all CORI reports are formatted in a way to make them clear and prepared in plain English, especially with respect to reports for prospective employers and schools.

• Establish a verification process to ensure that the CORI is accurately attributed to the proper person, such as by the use of fingerprints;

• Simplify the process to permit the correction of erroneous CORI by establishing an administrative procedure.

• Place the burden of proof that a record is accurate on the state in an action to correct an erroneous CORI, following a prima facie showing by the offender that a record may be inaccurate;

• Ensure that all CORI reports (including those available to law enforcement) contain an accurate record of the offense of conviction, not just the initial charge, by establishing a uniform system for entering information and a process of verification of the entry; and

• Create a process to purge information concerning cases where charges of a crime or complaints of delinquency have been dismissed or the defendant (or juvenile) has been found not guilty (or not delinquent) because the defendant was mistakenly identified or the alleged crime never occurred.

The MBA also supports reducing the length of time before a record can be sealed but allowing law enforcement access to the sealed record.