Expungement and Sealing of Criminal Records Resource Guide

This resource guide will help you understand if you are eligible to remove cases from your criminal record and the expungement and sealing process. All of the information below is based on Rhode Island General Laws Sections §12-1.3, §12-1-12, §12-1-12.1, §12-1-12.2, §12-10-12, and §11-34.1-5. This information should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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  • How do I access a criminal record?
  • What shows up on a criminal record?
  • Can I be asked: "Have you ever been arrested?" by an employer?
  • Can I be asked: "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" by an employer?
  • What is a conviction?
  • What is the difference between sealing and expungement?
  • Am I eligible to seal my case?
  • I received a filing on a misdemeanor offense. Am I eligible to have that case removed from my record?
  • Am I eligible for expungement?
  • Am I eligible to expunge my misdemeanor record?
  • Am I eligible to expunge my felony record?
  • Am I eligible to expunge a deferred sentence?
  • How do I get my record expunged (or sealed)?
  • After my case is expunged or sealed, will I have to disclose this conviction or charge in the future?
  • Who can I contact for assistance expunging or sealing my record?
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The only way to obtain an official RI criminal record is by going to the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) at the Attorney General's Office on 4 Howard Ave Cranston, RI 02920. Bring $5.00 (check, money order or credit card) and photo ID to obtain a copy of the record. If an individual is disabled or 62 years old or older, bring a copy of a proof of disability (for example, a SSI/SSDI award letter) or a photo ID showing age to have the $5.00 fee waived. If a third party is accessing the record, s/he will need a signed and notarized consent and photocopy of photo ID, and the fee.

If you have a bench warrant, you will be detained at BCI. Confirm that you do not have a bench warrant with the Clerk's Office or with your attorney before going to BCI.

Criminal records can also be viewed online at the RI Judiciary Website. For information on how to find case information see our, Find Case Information page. These, however, are not the official records

Often, employers see criminal records through private criminal background checks. Under the Fair Credit and Reporting Act, applicants have the right to see copies of the background check that is used by the employer in making an adverse hiring decision. Since these sometimes have errors, it is important to review this record to be sure it is accurate!

Individuals can also obtain copies of their national fingerprint check (VCIF) at the AG's BCI office if they are applying for specific types of jobs in Rhode Island such as work as nurses, massage therapists, or as employees at alarm and private security companies and school departments, among others. These checks cost $35.00.

Any case that you have been arrested for or charged for in Rhode Island that you have not had sealed or expunged will show up on your criminal record, including:

  • Cases that resulted in a conviction or probation
  • Cases that resulted in dismissals (48A), no true bill, no information, or a finding of not guilty
  • Arrests on warrants for failure to appear for court

No, it is illegal for an employer to ask this question in Rhode Island.

On July 15, 2013, Governor Chafee signed into law "Ban the Box." As of January 1, 2014, an employer cannot ask this question on initial job applications. However, employers may ask this question at a job interview.

A conviction is a sentence by a judge of a period of confinement (incarceration at the ACI or home confinement), suspended sentence, or fine. Any plea of guilty or finding of guilt by a judge or jury is also a conviction.

Common misconceptions:
  • Pleading 'nolo contendere' is not a conviction.
    • Incorrect: "Nolo contendere" is a plea, a position taken by the defendant related to their criminal charges, and a conviction is a sentence by a judge or jury. Pleading "nolo contendere" does not automatically mean that a person will not be convicted of a charge.
  • A sentence of straight probation is a conviction.
    • Incorrect: A period of straight probation (i.e. without suspended jail time or a fine) imposed after a plea of nolo contendere is not a conviction, though it is still subject to the expungement statutes.

Both are processes for removing cases from your record.

  • Expungement
    • is for cases that resulted in probation or a conviction (including suspended sentence, home confinement, incarceration, or a fine).
  • Sealing
    • is for cases that resulted in a dismissal, no true bill, no information, or a finding of not guilty.
  • If your case resulted in a dismissal (48A), no true bill, or no information, you are eligible to have it sealed or removed from your record UNLESS you have been convicted of a felony.
  • If you were found NOT GUILTY at TRIAL, you are eligible to have the case sealed regardless of previous felony convictions
  • If you were wrongfully arrested due to mistaken identity or any other reason, you are eligible to have any records of that arrest sealed and/or destroyed regardless of any prior convictions.
  • If your case was "filed" you will have to wait one (1) full year to file a motion, unless it is a domestic violence case, in which case you will have to wait three (3) years.
  • This is supposed to be automatic, but in practice you should follow-up yourself to confirm the process was completed. (RIGL 12-10-12)
  • You must meet specific criteria to be eligible for expungement. The eligibility requirements differ depending on how many cases you have and whether you have a misdemeanor or felony record.
  • In addition to meeting the specific criteria for expungement, the judge must find that you are of "good moral character" and that you have been "successfully rehabilitated."
  • Even if you meet the eligibility criteria for expungement, the judge has the ability to exercise discretion in deciding whether to grant or deny expungement.
  • If you are a first time offender (meaning that this misdemeanor is the only case you have been convicted of or have received probation, you not been previously convicted of or placed on probation for any other felony or misdemeanor and there are no criminal proceedings pending against you)
    • You are eligible to expunge a misdemeanor five (5) years after the successful completion of your sentence and/or probation
  • If you have more than one but fewer than six misdemeanors (and no felonies) on your record
    • You must wait ten (10) years after the date of completion of your last sentence to file a motion for expungement
    • Convictions for domestic violence, driving under the influence of liquor or drugs, or refusal to submit to chemical test are not eligible for expungement unless the individual is a first time offender
  • If you were convicted of or received probation for Prostitution or Loitering for Prostitution for any cases charged on or after November 3, 2009, you are eligible to expunge such records one year after completion of sentence regardless of the number of offenses (RIGL 11-34.1-5).

In order to be eligible to expunge a felony that resulted in a conviction or probation, you must meet three central requirements:

  1. You must be a First-time Offender
    • This means that this is the only case you have been convicted of or have received probation on, you not been previously convicted of or placed on probation for any other felony or misdemeanor and there are no criminal proceedings pending against you.
  2. The charge you were convicted of or placed on probation for was NOT a "crime of violence"
    • A crime of violence is defined as: Murder, manslaughter, first degree arson, kidnapping with intent to extort, robbery, larceny from the person, first degree sexual assault, second degree sexual assault, first and second degree child molestation, assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to rob, assault with intent to commit first degree sexual assault, burglary, and entering a dwelling house with intent to commit murder, robbery, sexual assault, or larceny.
  3. You must wait ten (10) years after the successful completion of the sentence and/or probation

If you plead guilty or nolo contendere and received a deferred sentence, you may be eligible for expungement after the expiration of your sentence, provided you have not been convicted of a crime of violence.

The expungement process can take several months to complete.

Steps:

  1. Obtain your records from BCI and confirm eligibility based on the information above.
  2. Go to the Judicial Records Center (Phone: 401-721-2641) located at 5 Hill Street, Pawtucket, in order to obtain a certified copy of any cases over three years old. This costs $3.00 per case for a certified copy.
    • File a motion with the clerk at the court house where charges were brought. You will need to bring a copy of the motion and have your signature notarized. You can find the form for a motion to expunge at: https://www.courts.ri.gov/PublicResources/forms
    • You will be given a court date and will be instructed to give notice of the date of the hearing to the police department that arrested you and the Department of the Attorney General. You can drop off this notice in person or send it by mail.
  3. Go to your court date and be ready to prove that you meet the criteria listed above.
  4. If the judge grants your motion to expunge, you must pay $100.00 to the court in order to obtain a copy of the judge's order (note: you do not need to pay this fee for motions for dismissed charges or for cases which you were acquitted). If you are unable to pay at the time of the hearing, you can pay this fee in installments at the Clerk's Office.
  5. Give a copy of the order to the Attorney General's Office and to the police department that brought the charge against you. Keep the original as you may need this paper in the future if any agency or company mistakenly discloses expunged material.
  6. Make sure the paperwork was processed. A month or two after the motion is granted, get an official copy of your BCI to confirm that your record was expunged.

Once expungement is granted, you will no longer have to disclose that you were convicted of the charge that was expunged, with limited exceptions.

Exceptions – According to RIGL § 12-1.3-4 (b), any person who is an applicant for:
  1. a law enforcement agency position
  2. admission to the bar of any court
  3. a teaching certificate or a coaching certificate
  4. the operator or employee of an early childhood educational facility is required to disclose the fact of an expunged conviction.

Just because expunged material is removed from public view does not mean that it disappears entirely. Under RIGL § 12-1 3-4 (c), certain individuals or organizations have access to expunged records. These include:

  • the individual whose record was expunged
  • a sentencing court following the conviction of the individual for the commission of a different crime
  • a bar agency which is considering a bar admission, character and fitness, or disciplinary matter
  • the commissioner of elementary and secondary education
  • any law enforcement agency when the nature and character of the offense with which an individual is to be charged would be affected by virtue of the person having been previously convicted of the same offense.
  • by order of a court

Additionally, employers and housing agencies increasingly use private criminal background check services to obtain criminal history information. These record companies are required to keep their records up to date however it is common that these records still appear even after the expungement. There is a nonprofit called Expungement Clearninghouse (website: www.expungementclearinghouse.org) that offers a free service where the organization sends a copy of your expungement order to major private criminal background check companies in order for them to update their records. See the nonprofit's website to learn more about this service.

If you are a current/former client of the Rhode Island Public Defender, call Evan Rosin-Pritchard, RIPD Community Outreach Liaison (401-458-3057) for assistance.

If you were not a client of the Rhode Island Public Defender and you would like assistance filing for expungement but you are unable to hire a lawyer, you may contact the Removing Barriers to Employment program at Rhode Island Legal Services. Call (401) 274-2652 for assistance.