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Rhode Island Court Records

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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, sealing and expungement are ways of criminal history information from a persons record. Sealing or expunging criminal records offer relief in the form of restoration of rights, allowing convicted or accused persons to rejoin society as functional and productive members. Rhode Island’s sealing and expungement process begins with the accused or convicted parties filing a motion for sealing or expungement with the courts.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

In some states, expungement and sealing have the same effect and mean the same thing - removing criminal records from public access. In other states, expungement involves complete removal and deleting criminal records, while sealing restricts public access to the criminal record. In this case, when the court grants the order to expunge a record, the record is deleted from all government databases where it existed. Only an index of the expunged record remains.

In states like Rhode Island, expungement and sealing apply to different records; however, the effect and meaning are the same. The court’s order of expungement or sealing is an order to remove the criminal conviction or file from the subject’s criminal history record. However, while sealing applies to non-conviction records such as arrest records, dismissed cases, and no true bill cases (RIGL § 12–1–12.1),, expungement applies to conviction or probation records (RIGL § 12–1.3–2)..

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How to Seal a Criminal Record in Rhode Island

Records of arrests, dismissal, no true bill, no information, and other non-conviction records are eligible for sealing in Rhode Island. Records of cases where the court finds the accused not guilty are also eligible for sealing. Parties to a case may petition the court to seal eligible records by filing a motion with the local court that heard the case. The court clerk typically sets the motion hearing for at least ten (10) days after the case party files the motion. The party must notify the Attorney General’s Office and the police department at least ten (10) days before the hearing date. Upon certification that the party has notified the Attorney General’s Office and the police department, the party may sign and submit the motion to the court clerk. Case parties may also file the motion to seal online.

At the hearing, the court considers relevant information and testimony to determine whether to grant the sealing motion. If the court grants the motion, the court clerk must seal all the case records in question within 45 days. For cases that involve domestic violence, the party must wait three (3) years from the filing date to be eligible for sealing.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, some criminal records are eligible for expungement. State laws allow for the expungement of conviction and probation records, including records of charges that result in fines, imprisonment, home confinement, and suspended sentences (RIGL § 12–1.3–2).. First-time offenders may file a motion for the expungement of felony and misdemeanor case records, provided that such persons have met all the conditions of the sentence, including payment of fees and fines. However, if the court convicts a first-time offender of a violent crime, the criminal record is not eligible for expungement.

Persons convicted of more than one but less than six (6) misdemeanors may file a motion for expungement, provided that such persons do not have any felony convictions.

First-time offenders may file a motion for expungement after five (5) years for misdemeanor convictions and ten (10) years for felony convictions. Such parties must have completed all the sentence requirements to be eligible for expungement. Persons who have completed deferred sentences may immediately file a motion for expungement. Additionally, persons with conviction records for decriminalized offenses may file a motion for expungement. However, this only applies if the state justice system decriminalizes the offense after the party’s conviction.

Records of domestic violence convictions, DUI offenses, and refusal to submit to a chemical test are not eligible for expungement. Records of violent crimes such as murder, robbery, sexual assault, and child molestation are also not eligible for expungement.

How to Expunge Criminal Records in Rhode Island

Parties to a case or legal representatives of the parties may petition the court to expunge criminal records by filing a motion to expunge a record. When the court clerk sets a hearing date, the petitioner must notify the Attorney General’s Office and the police department at least ten (10) days before the hearing. The court will consider available evidence and testimony in determining whether or not to grant an order of expungement. If the court grants expungement for a conviction record, the petitioner must pay $100 to complete the expungement process. The petitioner must also pay all other court-stipulated fees, fines, and charges. Additionally, the petitioner must deliver copies of the expungement order to the Bureau of Criminal Identification Unit of the Attorney General’s Office and to the police department that initiated the case.

Upon expungement, the court seals or destroys the record and treats the offense like it never happened. The case party may state that there is no existing record when asked.

Do Sealed Records Show up In Rhode Island Background Checks?

No, sealed records do not show up in Rhode Island background checks. Once the court seals or expunges a record, the record is either destroyed or removed from public access; hence, the record will no longer show up in background checks. Only court-authorized persons may access sealed or expunged records. According to RIGL § 12–1.3–4, record custodians may not release or disclose the existence of expunged or sealed records, except for uses permitted by law.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in Rhode Island?

According to RIGL § 12–1.3–4(c), individual persons and organizations may access sealed or expunged criminal records. Such persons include:

  • The person whose record was expunged or sealed
  • Bar admission committees
  • The sentencing court, if the case party is convicted of a different crime
  • Disciplinary committees or boards
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • The Commissioner of elementary and secondary education
  • Persons with a court order

How to Obtain Sealed Records in Rhode Island

Only persons, agencies, and organizations permitted by law or the court may access or obtain sealed records. Subjects may visit the court clerk in the sentencing court or other appointed record custodian to obtain copies of sealed records. Such persons may also visit the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) unit at the Attorney General’s Office to obtain copies of sealed records. The record custodian or BCI officer may require photo identification and payment for record copies.

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