Rhode Island State Legislature Considering Changes to Its Expungement Law

PROVIDENCE, R.I.

The state has seen more than 24,000 crimes be sealed from public view over the last two years. The push for changes in legislation comes from the criminal defense lobby, and looks to shorten the length of time an applicant has to wait until the expungement is granted and the criminal records in question are updated. The lobby is also advocating for a wider selection of crimes to be eligible for expungement, as well as increase the court’s ability to process more expungements.

In 2014, courts granted 11,598 expungements, 2,798 of which were felonies, and 8,800 misdemeanors. Now to be added to the list of expunge-able offenses are those involving possession of marijuana.

Rhode Island law allows for the permanent sealing of criminal records, much different than other states like California who merely allow for convictions to be dismissed – not a true criminal record expungement. Also working on behalf of the criminal defense lobby are organizations who support the homeless. LeeAnn Byrne, policy director for the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless says that some of the beds available in shelters are taken by those who have criminal records and are, thus, unable to obtain housing. If those individuals were able to expunge their records, that would open up a significant number of beds for those who are truly unable to provide for themselves.

On the other hand, other political lobbies have voiced concerned over the newly proposed legislation. Kevin J. Aucoin has publicly stated that he believes the expanded law would allow for the expungement of child neglect and abuse felonies, as well as those related to child pornography a child prostitution. The one amendment that the twosomes do agree on makes it necessary for all fines to be paid before any criminal record can be expunged.

In any case, the number of expungements granted in the state is impressive given the size of the population. The estimated population of the state in 2014 reached 1,055,173 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 2013 saw only 33 loss-of-life related crimes, but 55,769 crimes overall. 76% of those arrested were male, and 78% of those were white.

In California, Penal Code 1203.4 allows for the dismissal of convictions once an offender’s sentence has been satisfactorily completed. We believe that expungements are essential to the advancement of society. Those who made simple mistakes in the past should not continue to be punished, and should be provided the relief they are legally entitled to.