Massachusetts Criminal Court Records
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What are Massachusetts Criminal Court Records?
Massachusetts criminal court records comprise all legal documents containing information regarding criminal court proceedings within the state’s jurisdiction. These documents typically include trial transcripts containing details of court actions, motions, and judgments as well as sworn affidavits and testimonies pertaining to criminal court cases. Criminal court records may not be substituted for criminal history information which is typically maintained by the state’s law enforcement agencies. However, pursuant to the state’s record dissemination laws, Massachusetts judicial system maintains and provides access to criminal court records to interested and eligible members of the public
Understanding the Massachusetts Criminal Court System
The Massachusetts state judiciary encompasses the state’s Supreme Court, the appellate courts and 7 departments which serve as trial courts and are moderated by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which is the state’s court of last resort. Essentially, the Massachusetts state judiciary is as follows:
- Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
- Massachusetts Appeals Court
- Massachusetts Trial Courts
- Superior Court
- District Court
- Land Court
- Housing Court
- Juvenile Court
- Probate and family court
- Boston municipal court
Felony and misdemeanor criminal cases are typically initiated in the district or superior court of the jurisdiction where the offense reportedly occurred. However, Massachusett’s superior courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over first-degree murder cases as well as the authority to hear other felony matters. Following the judgment of the trial court in a criminal case, appeals may be made to the Massachusetts appeals court which serves as an intermediate appellate court of the state (except for appeals of convictions of first-degree murder). All final appeals may be made to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which is the highest judicial authority of the state.
Federal crimes committed in the state are under the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
What’s included in Massachusetts Criminal Court Record?
Most court records share similar characteristics and usually contain case information as well as details of the court proceedings. However, Massachusetts criminal court records often vary depending on the case itself and the jurisdiction where the case was filed. Generally, criminal court records feature the personal information of the accused/indicted person as well as details of the charge(s) brought against the offender, the case file number and the date and place where the case was filed.
Additionally, criminal court records contain detailed accounts of the preliminary hearing as well as details of the sentencing hearing and consequent conviction hearing as well as any ascribed penalties. If the offender pleads guilty and does not go to the trial court, the record will indicate any plea bargains and agreed upon penalties including jail time, fines and/or probationary conditions. Records of cases that are eventually appealed typically feature updated judgments and penalties.
Other relevant information pertaining to criminal court cases are contained in related resources such as court postings/opinions and calendars.
Obtaining Massachusetts Criminal Court Records
Pursuant to the state’s public record laws, interested members of the public may access Massachusetts criminal court records provided they are not confidential and the requestor meets any indicated eligibility requirements. Access to most records requires that the requesting party make an oral or written request to the custodian of the record. However, records that can be accessed electronically may be viewed without obtaining any permission. Generally, interested members of the public may view and/or obtain copies of Massachusetts criminal court records by:
- Using the states online resources such as the Mass.gov docket search tools
- Making in-person requests
- Sending mail-in queries to the appropriate court custodian
- Using third-party aggregation sites
How Do I Access Massachusetts Criminal Court Records in Person?
In-person criminal court records are especially recommended for obtaining full case information given the restrictions on records available remotely. To access criminal court records in person, the requesting party must:
- Locate the Record Custodian
As per the Massachusetts judicial system, district and superior courts of various jurisdictions hear criminal cases consequently, generating and maintaining court records. Thus, to obtain a record, the requestor must locate the jurisdiction where the case was filed/heard and the appropriate office which serves as the court record custodian of that jurisdiction. Depending on the severity of the crime and/or most current status of the case, criminal court records may also be maintained by the appellate courts or the Supreme Judicial Court of the state.
- Collect the Required Information
Pursuant to Massachusetts state laws, persons seeking access to criminal court records must provide any information required to facilitate record searches. This information typically includes the full name of the plaintiff and/or defendant, the names of their respective attorneys, the case file number of the record and the date on which the original charge as filed. In addition to these, various jurisdictions may have specific requirements for accessing the record depending on the confidentiality of the record and the information contained in the record.
- Visit the Court Record Custodian
Once located, the requestor may make in-person requests to the court record custodian which is often the office of the clerk of courts in the court were the case was filed/heard. Depending on the jurisdiction, visits to the custodian may require scheduling an appointment with the office. Most custodians also require that each requestor complete request form on which the requester usually provides their personal information as well as details of the record of interest. In many cases, the requestor may be allowed to self-serve using the court’s public terminals if the document requested is public record.
- Provide Identification and Fee Requirements
In addition to providing information to facilitate record search, the requesting party may be charged a nominal fee to cover search and copy costs, as well as be required to present a photo ID. While the fees charged to a requestor may vary depending on the record requested or the jurisdiction where the record is housed, most jurisdictions insist on government-issued photo ID’s.
How Do I Find Massachusetts Criminal Court Records by Mail?
The requirements for obtaining criminal court records are mostly universal. The requesting party is often required to prepare a written request stating the type of document required as well as details of the case such as the full name of the offender and complainant, the case file number of the record and the date and place where the case was filed.
Depending on the requirements of the record custodian, mail-in requests typically require that the requestor enclose the request along with a payment to cover search/copy fees as well as a copy of a government-issued photo-ID and a self-addressed envelope. For details of any additional requirements, requesters are advised to contact the district, superior or appellate court where the record is housed. In many cases, the court record custodian will provide the requestor with official record request forms which can be substituted for written requests.
How to Find Massachusetts Criminal Court Records Online?
The state of Massachusetts provides a variety of online resources for accessing criminal court records. While most jurisdictions operate individual online tools for searching court dockets for court case information, the state judicial system maintains central repositories that provide access to state-wide criminal court records. These resources include the:
- MA Trial Court Dockets
- Supreme Judicial Court and Appeal Court Dockets
- Attorney Portal
The MA Trial Court Dockets house court case information of criminal cases heard by district and superior courts in various jurisdiction. This docket can be searched using the public terminals available at designated courthouses in the state, or by using private computers. With state courthouses, the public-access computers available run the Mass eAccess application allowing requesters to conduct searches by the name of the offender/plaintiff and case type and/or case file number. These searches provide basic case information including the court docket and details of the disposition.
To access criminal court case information using privately owned computers, requestors may use the public-access search tool available at www.masscourts.org. Users must provide the court department and division where the cases were heard as well as the name, case number and docket number of the record. Each search will provide a maximum of 100 records which are most similar to the information provided (i.e. if the docket number is not known or provided). Details of a case can be viewed by clicking the hyperlink of the desired case and interested persons may print the record if required.
Electronic case information can also be obtained using the attorney portal available on www.masscourts.org. This is especially relevant for attorneys interested in tracking their cases. Before using the portal, each user must obtain the required login information by providing their email address. Further information regarding the process can be obtained by contacting eAccess@jud.state.ma.us.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
Are all Massachusetts Criminal Court Records Public?
Pursuant to Massachusetts public record laws, the public has the right to inspect and obtain copies of most criminal court records. However, the right to access criminal court records is not absolute as records that contain confidential information and those sealed by court orders are restricted to specific eligible persons.
While docket information, court actions, motions, court orders, and filed evidence are accessible to interested members of the public, other categories of records are not open including records pertaining to adoption, assault-related cases, grand jury records as well as financial documents filed as evidence and other records impounded by a court order/subpoena. The SJC guidelines provide complete listings of records that are accessible to the public, closed or may only be accessed based on the discretion of the court.
How do I find Massachusetts Public Records for Free?
The online resources provided by the Massachusetts state government provides public access to court case information at no cost. However, given the restrictions on the records accessible remotely only basic court case information can be accessed using the state’s online resources. These include the full names of the parties involved as well as their addresses, docket entries which include court actions and documents filed during a proceeding and other details including court opinions and calendars. Full court case information as well as information identifying assault victims, juveniles, witnesses and jurors are excluded from the portal and typically require in-person requests to obtain.
Can I Access Sealed Massachusetts Criminal Court Records?
Under Massachusetts state law, court records containing confidential information and/or sealed by court order may be available to eligible members of the public. To be eligible to access a sealed criminal court record, interested persons may request and obtain a court order unless they are members of law enforcement, the staff of the state department of human services or licensors/staff of licensing agencies.
Persons who are neither any of the following nor capable of obtaining legal authorization to access the sealed record will not be granted access to the record of interest.
What Records are Automatically Sealed by Massachusetts Statute?
As indicated by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s guidelines on the right of access to judicial records, only docket information is available to members of the public. This includes information regarding pleas and motions of the defendant in a case as well as the court actions and orders, filed evidence introduced during proceedings as well as hearing transcripts. However, the following records are generally restricted from public access and/or sealed automatically or by court order:
- The personal information of juveniles, witnesses and jurors
- Records filed by child protective services and related departments
- Grand jury records
- Juvenile inmate records
- Personal information and addresses of victims, adopted juveniles, and children in child custody cases
- Records relating to care and protection cases
- Details regarding dismissed controlled substance cases
- Adoption records.
To access case information of sealed or confidential records, the requestor must either be legally authorized (by a subpoena) or be a member of a law enforcement agency, a staff of the department of health and human services or an authorized licensing agent.