CWOF is an acronym for “continuance without a finding.”
In the Massachusetts courts system, CWOFs are the result of a specific plea that is allowed within the district courts: Admission to Sufficient Facts for a Finding of Guilty.
When you plead “admission to sufficient facts,” you are not pleading guilty; you’re simply acknowledging that the Commonwealth has sufficient facts gathered at that point to support a guilty verdict by a judge or jury.
You can only enter an admission to sufficient facts plea after a Not Guilty plea has been entered in the District Court; which in many cases would have been filed on your behalf by your defense counselor.
The District Court judge will usually allow this plea and enter a continuance without a finding –”CWOF,” on the record after your defense lawyer and the prosecutor have reached an agreement as to the charges you will admit sufficient facts to, and the conditions of your continuance.
These agreements or plea deals should be carefully considered and analyzed by you and your lawyer beforehand. A CWOF can still have adverse effects in both the short and long-run. If you violate the terms of the CWOF agreement, your continuance will be vacated and you will be convicted of the offense without any right to a trial.
In another instance, if the offense is one for which the federal govt. bans naturalization, the CWOF will not prevent your citizenship from being denied.
In cases where the underlying arrest and/or charges will be accessed by an employer or governmental agency (see below), it may be best to fight the charges at trial to obtain a not guilty verdict and dismissal.
Disposition of a CWOF
Your case will only be CWOFed under certain conditions which almost always entail a period of probation to be completed during the continuance. If you comply with all the requirements of your probation, the CWOF will be closed.
Successful disposition of the CWOF means your continuance is closed and dismissed without a finding of either guilt or innocence; so the answer to the often asked question “Is a COWF a conviction?” is “No.” A closed CWOF that is then marked dismissed is not a conviction on your record.
However, for an operating under the influence offense, both the courts and Registry of Motor Vehicles treat the CWOF for OUI as a conviction.
A CWOF for a first-time DUI/OUI will carry terms similar to an OUI conviction: 6 months to a year of probation; alcohol education assignment to the 24D program; driver license suspension of 45 days and fines. The CWOF will also be counted against you for penalty enhancements if you’re charged with a subsequent DUI.
Other questions I often get concerning CWOFs:
- Does the CWOF show up on my background check?
- Will the CWOF show up on my CORI?
- Can I lawfully check “no” on employment applications asking if I’ve been convicted of a crime if I took a CWOF?
- Can a CWOF be weighed like a conviction by a professional licensing board or a criminal justice agency?
- What are the benefits of taking a CWOF deal?
Here’s the answer key:
1 – 2 “Background checks” usually refer to the standard level of access to your CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) that a typical employer has. In this instance, the CWOF would not show up.
But certain employers and agencies that have higher-level CORI access can see CWOFs. So for questions one and two, the answer is that it depends on the level of access the organization or requester is given under the CORI regulations.
4. CWOFs can become gray areas when it comes to certain professional licensing boards. If you are a medical professional, for example a registered nurse, how you handle your CWOF with the board can be crucial.
Most law enforcement agencies will look unfavorably upon a CWOF, and will likely bar you from taking any entrance examinations if you are not yet an officer.
5. Benefits of taking a CWOF can include: affording higher education opportunities and access to certain scholarships, allowing lawful application to employment as a non-convict, retention of current employment and a faster track toward sealing your CORI.
For specific questions about a CWOF, feel free to contact my office at any time.