Best practices to Expunge or Seal every type of case or offense in the state of Rhode Island:
1. Motor Vehicle Infractions:
The best way to start the process of eliminating driving infractions is to obtain a copy of your Driving Abstract (your record of motor vehicle driving offenses). You may obtain your Driving Abstract from the Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles: (https://www.ri.gov/DMV/mvr/). Review your Driving Abstract to ensure you have no motor vehicle offenses that are more than three years old. Pursuant to Rhode Island law § 31-41.1-10, traffic violations that are more than three years old shall be expunged by the clerk of the court, whether those offenses were adjudicated in the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, or whether they were adjudicated in one of Rhode Island’s twenty-three municipal courts. If you have infractions that are more than three years old that appear on your Driving Abstract, you should contact the clerk of the court to remove them.
Judgments of guilt for Refusal to Submit to Chemical Test are ineligible to be removed from your Driving Abstract.
There are benefits to having a clean driving record, such as being eligible for discounts on the cost of motor vehicle insurance and being able to make an application for dismissal of certain driving infractions (such as a minor speeding offense) for having a good driving record, pursuant to Rhode Island law § 31-41.1-7.
You should contact an attorney who is experienced in obtaining expungements to assist you if you have questions or concerns about this process.
2. Misdemeanors - Motions to Expunge
A Motion to Expunge is the appropriate application to the court to eliminate your criminal record if you pleaded guilty, pleaded nolo contendere, or were found guilty after trial for a criminal offense. You should file your motion in the same court in which the conviction occurred. You are eligible to expunge misdemeanor criminal offenses if all of the following circumstances are met:
1. you have not been convicted (received a term of incarceration, a suspended sentence, probation, a deferred sentence, or a fine; or, if there was a guilty plea or guilty verdict) of a felony;
2. you are not currently facing criminal proceedings;
3. the misdemeanor you seek to expunge is not for a conviction of Driving Under the Influence of Liquor or Drugs;
4. five years have elapsed since the completion of your sentence;
5. during the five years prior to the filing of the Motion to Expunge, you have not been arrested for any felony or misdemeanor;
6. you have exhibited good moral character;
7. you have paid all monies you owe to the court or to victims of your crime;
8. you have given the Attorney General and the police department that originally brought the charge against you at least ten days notice of the hearing date (which will be determined by the clerk of the court) for your motion to expunge;
9. the expungement of your records is consistent with the public interest;
10. you have paid one hundred dollars to the clerk of the court after the court has granted your motion;
11. it is your only conviction; or,
12. you have fewer than six misdemeanor convictions;
13. you have waited ten years since the completion of your most recent misdemeanor sentence;
14. during the ten years prior to the filing of the Motion to Expunge, you have not been arrested for any felony or misdemeanor.
Misdemeanors - Motions to Seal
A Motion to Seal is the appropriate application to the court and to the arresting entity (e.g., City of Providence) to eliminate your documents, your photograph (a.k.a. mug shot), reports, and related documentation produced as a result of your arrest if you were exonerated. This means that if your case was dismissed for any reason, was officially not prosecuted by the State of Rhode Island (through a finding of No True Bill or No Information), or if you were acquitted by a judge or jury after trial, you are eligible to have your records sealed, pursuant to Rhode Island law § 12-1-12.1.
You are not, however, eligible to have your records sealed, even if you were exonerated, if you have been convicted of a felony. The definition of a felony conviction for purposes of a motion to seal is, however, more forgiving than it is for a motion to expunge. A plea of nolo contendere to a felony, followed by a sentence of probation or a deferred sentence would make you ineligible to expunge a misdemeanor. Contrarily, “a plea of nolo contendere followed by probation would not preclude a defendant from sealing his or her records.” State v. Poulin, 66 A.3d 419, 425 (R.I. 2013). You would still be ineligible to have your records sealed if you pleaded nolo contendere and received a term of incarceration, a suspended sentence, or a fine; or, if there was a guilty plea or guilty verdict for a felony.
Misdemeanors - Filing Dispositions
If you received a one-year filing as a disposition for your criminal charge, you are eligible to have the record of your crime for which you received the filing automatically expunged after one year has passed since the imposition of the filing disposition, so long as you meet the following criteria:
1. if the filing disposition you received was for a domestic violence misdemeanor, more than three years has elapsed since the completion of your sentence;
2. you have not been convicted of a felony or a private complaint;
3. you successfully completed the term of your filing sentence;
4. you have paid all monies you owe to the court or to victims of your crime.
In Rhode Island District Courts, unlike a typical motion to expunge, with a filing disposition, at the successful completion of your one-year period of time since the imposition of your filing, you are automatically eligible to have an order of destruction issued by the clerk of the court that imposed your filing, without having to file a motion or give notice to any governmental entity.
A Felony offense may be eliminated from your record by applying to the court through a Motion to Expunge or a Motion to Seal. You are eligible if all of the following criteria are met:
1. it is your only conviction;
2. the conviction is not for a crime of violence, as defined in Rhode Island law § 12-1-12.1;
3. the felony you seek to expunge is not for a conviction related to the statue governing Driving Under the Influence of Liquor or Drugs;
4. ten years have elapsed since the completion of your sentence;
5. during the ten years prior to the filing of the Motion to Expunge, you have not been arrested for any felony or misdemeanor;
6. you are not currently facing criminal proceedings;
7. you have exhibited good moral character;
8. you have paid all monies you owe to the court or to victims of your crime;
9. you have given the Attorney General and the police department that originally brought the charge against you at least ten days’ notice of the hearing date (which will be determined by the clerk of the court) for your motion to expunge;
10. the expungement of your records is consistent with the public interest;
11. you have paid one hundred dollars to the clerk of the court after the court has granted your motion.
Successful completion of a deferred sentence disposition does not entitle a person to automatically have that sentence expunged. Deferred sentence dispositions are treated the same as any felony convictions for purposes of expungements.
4. Decriminalized Offenses
If you were convicted of an offense that has since become decriminalized, the procedure and criteria to bring a successful motion to expunge is the same as it is for misdemeanors, except for the elimination of the requirement that one hundred dollars be paid to the clerk of the court.
5. Prostitution and Solicitation to Commit a Sexual Act
If you were convicted of a prostitution or solicitation offense, the procedure and criteria to bring a successful motion to expunge is the same as it is for misdemeanors, provided that in addition to the criteria listed for misdemeanors, you must prove that your participation in the offense was a direct result of being a victim.
6. Drug Court
All matters adjudicated through the Drug Court are dismissed and expunged upon successful completion of the drug court program.
Following through with ensuring your record has been eliminated
Once your Motion to Expunge or your Motion to Seal has been granted by the court, with motor vehicle offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies, you should prepare an order that directs the court, the Department of the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Identification Unit, and the arresting police department to destroy all documents, photographs, and records produced as a result of your arrest or violation.
As a Special Assistant Attorney General, Attorney John Larochelle has argued on behalf of the State of Rhode Island against the improper granting of motions to expunge and motions to seal. As a defense attorney, Attorney Larochelle has successfully argued numerous motions to expunge. All of Attorney Larochelle’s successful motions are followed up with detailed orders directing the appropriate agencies to completely destroy all records and documents associated with the charged offense.
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