Mistakes happen. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, your record can make it difficult for you to move on. Expungement or sealing is a legal step in starting over.
Definition of Expungement and Sealing
Expungement is a legal process that deletes your criminal record from public record and law enforcement agencies. In Rhode Island, this remedy is only available for first-time offenders who were not convicted of a violent crime, and the required waiting time has elapsed. Sealing is a legal option for limiting access to your records after exoneration of a charge, but it is, in effect, the same as expungement.
Even if you were exonerated or your case was dismissed, you should file a motion to have your records sealed or expunged. If your case resulted in a dismissal or "no information" or "no true bill," or if you were found not guilty, it does not mean the record has been sealed automatically. Both expungement and sealing are only available to you if you do not have a prior felony conviction.
In Rhode Island, you must wait a required period of time before you can apply for an expungement or sealing of your record. There are different waiting periods depending upon the crime.
- Misdemeanors have a five-year waiting period from the date your case was settled, sentence was completed and probationary period is complete.
- Felonies are not eligible to file for expungement until a period of 10 years has elapsed since the successful completion of the sentence and probation.
- Domestic violence crimes carry a waiting period of three full years to file a motion to expunge or seal.
- Deferred sentences where you pleaded guilty or nolo contendere have a waiting period of five years, so long as there are no further charges, before you are eligible for expungement.
You may not seek expungement if your crime was considered a crime of violence. Examples are murder, robbery, sexual assault, child molestation, kidnapping, and larceny.
Expungement does not happen immediately; it can take months from start to finish to have a record expunged. To begin the expungement process, you must get a copy of your records from the Bureau of Criminal Identification at the Attorney General's Office. Then:
- File a motion for expungement or sealing with the clerk of the court where the charges were brought.
- Get a court date for the motion to be reviewed.
- Notify the police department that arrested you and the attorney general of the date of the hearing.
- You must appear at court on the hearing date.
- Bring proof that you are eligible for expungement: You are a first-time offender of a non-violent crime; you have good moral character; and you are successfully rehabilitated. You must also show expungement is consistent with the public interest.
- If granted, your motion will be approved and filed with the clerk of the court. Mail a copy of the approval to the attorney general and the police department where you were charged.
- You will get an official copy of confirmation of expungement or sealing in about one month.
A fee of about $100.00 is required for court processing. The fee can be waived by the Rhode Island Public Defender. You will not be charged a fee if the motion to expunge was for a charge that was dismissed or acquitted.
Legal Help from an Expungement Lawyer
You do not need a criminal attorney to expunge or seal your record, but it is advisable. The legal process can be intricate and tricky, and it is easy to miss important steps and become confused. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes. There is no substitute for a Rhode Island expungement lawyer who knows the local law and can advise you on your personal situation.