On May 4, 2012 the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Reform Act went into effect making sweeping changes to the way Massachusetts maintains and disseminates its criminal offender records. The CORI Reform Act renamed the Criminal History Systems Board to the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS) and established an online database, iCORI, for employers to obtain an applicant’s criminal history as part of a general background check. The Act also limited the years that would be available for searching: ten years for felonies and five years for misdemeanors. While the intent of the changes was to create a time limit for the scope of an individual’s criminal history, the laws have also impacted civil litigation and discovery.
G.L. 233, §21 permits an individual’s criminal convictions to be admitted into evidence for impeachment purposes. The Court first conducts a balancing test to weigh the probative value of the conviction compared to the potential prejudice which may befall the witness. The longstanding jurisprudence in Massachusetts is “[o]ne who has been convicted of crime is presumed to be less worthy of belief than one who has not been so convicted. Labrie v. Midwood, 273 Mass. 578, 582 (1931). Although the statue permits this theory of impeachment for all crimes, some courts utilize judicial discretion to limit admissible convictions to crimes of veracity only.
In order to admit criminal convictions, lawyers generally move for a Court Order to obtain an individual’s CORI report, which contains an itemized list of the criminal charges, docket numbers, and dates of disposition. Prior to the change, a CORI report obtained as a result of a Court Order contained an individual’s complete criminal history. Now, the report is limited by the ten/five year rule listed above. If there are criminal convictions within the ten/five rule, lawyers may then request to go back another ten or five years, depending on the type of conviction and date.
Although the CORI Reform Act has increased the effort required to obtain the criminal offender records, it can be worthwhile to see the task through. Despite the growing use of technology and proliferation of electronic communications, many lawsuits boil down to one person’s word against another’s. In cases such as this, any means of impeachment can result in the difference between a successful and a losing verdict, which means that knowing and utilizing the methods of witness impeachment, such as the use of criminal convictions, is of critical importance.