This pending legislation could mean big changes for the eligibility requirements for criminal record expungement. Individuals who were previously not eligible due to the Rhode Island Supreme Court's ruling in State v. Briggs in 2006-07 may potentially be eligible. If you are not sure if you are eligible to have your criminal record erased, call Attorney Matthew Marin at 401-228-8271 for a free consultation. We will examine your criminal history and explain to you how the new legislation may affect your ability to cleanse your criminal record.
House panel OKs sealing more criminal records
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by lawyer-legislator Rep. David Caprio, D-Narragansett, has unanimously approved a bill to allow more convicted criminals to have their records sealed.
In addition to Caprio, those representatives voting for the bill were: Timothy Williamson, D-West Warwick; Amy G. Rice, D-Portsmouth; Edith Ajello, D-Providence; Roberto DaSilva, D-East Providence; Rodney Driver, D-Richmond; Robert Flaherty, D-Warwick; Donald Lally, D-Narragansett; Peter Martin, D-Newport; Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield; Peter Palumbo, D-Cranston, and Scott Pollard, D-Foster.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- While all eyes are focused on the unveiling of the new state budget on Thursday, House and Senate committees will be voting on bills to allow many more convicted criminals to legally tell their prospective employers and landlords they have never been convicted of a crime.
Rhode Island judges are already allowed to permanently seal the record of nonviolent crimes by first offenders 5 years after completion of their sentence for a misdemeanor, 10 years after the completion of a sentence for a felony. A companion law allows a court clerk to automatically seal the records of anyone "acquitted or otherwise exonerated" of a crime with no prior felony record.
Since the year 2000, more than 74,000 criminal records have been permanently removed from public view. Click here to see a breakdown by year and type of crime.
The bills headed for votes by the House and Senate judiciary committees call for the automatic sealing, after five years, of the record of any crime for which an admitted criminal has been given a "deferred" sentence, regardless of the nature of the crime and the age or criminal history of the offender, as long as he or she stays out of trouble for that five-year period.
This would only apply to those who have plead guilty or no contest to the crime.
It remains unclear how many criminals get deferred sentences. But they are not uncommon, especially in cases where a defendant has negotiated a plea that spared the state a trial.
In past years, state judges have handed out deferred sentences to stalkers, domestic abusers and, in at least one case, an admitted child molester, along with an admitted co-conspirator in the Lincoln bribery scandal, the executive secretary for the Barrington police chief who pleaded no contest to embezzling town money, the admitted accomplice to a gunpoint robbery in Waterplace Park, and the former director of operations at Amtrol who pleaded no contest to stealing $186,000.
The debate over the automatic expungement of these types of records has, over the years, pitted a small, but vocal group of defense lawyers, criminal-rights advocates and representatives of the minority community against the police, the attorney general's office and the business community.
In the past, Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch cited a litany of concerns about allowing the destruction of records of people who, in exchange for no-jail sentences, had to admit their guilt in court.
He warned lawmakers that the destruction of the records would allow many more admitted criminals to declare to a potential employer that they had never been convicted of a crime. He told them it would undermine existing statutes that require background checks for job applicants, and "permanently erase the entire records of individuals who may now apply to work with our most vulnerable citizens -- children and the elderly -- without the standards and protections of the expungement statute."
As "one of the few states that allows for the expungement of an adult offense," Lynch told them, "Rhode Island already has one of the nation's most liberal expungement statutes."
But Democrat Lynch, now running for governor, has had a change of heart, and has asked lawmakers to introduce bills on his behalf to allow the automatic sealing of the records of cases in which an admitted criminal served out his or her deferred sentence without getting into further trouble.
The legislation specifically says: "If a person, after the completion of the five (5) year deferment period is determined by the court to have complied with all of the terms and conditions of the written deferral agreement,then the person shall be exonerated of the charges for which sentence was deferred and records relating to the criminal complaint, information or indictment shall be sealed. ''
Lynch spokesman Michael J. Healey said the attorney general felt compelled to reconsider his own position by what has happened in the years since the Rhode Island Supreme Court stopped the early expungement of the records of these admitted criminals, as soon as their five-year deferral periods ended.
"Since that decision," Healey said, "defendants have been less willing to enter into deferred-sentence agreements with us. This is unfortunate, because the deferred sentence is such an effective tool for both parties, the state and defendant."
In that November 2007 decision in a case known as state v. Briggs, the Supreme Court took the position that a "a plea of nolo contendere is an implied confession of guilt" for purposes of weighing who is and is not eligible for expungement, regardless of whether their cases resulted in deferred sentences.
Since the records would be sealed rather than destroyed as called for in earlier versions of the bill, and thus available for use by the police in subsequent investigations, Healey said Lynch views the current bill as "a compromise of public safety, the integrity of criminal records and the integrity of the process."
The Senate sponsors include Charles Levesque, D-Portsmouth, and Providence Senators Harold Metts, Paul Jabour and Juan Pichardo, and in the House, Providence Democrats Joseph Almeida, John Carnevale,Anastasia Williams, and Grace Diaz.
Governor Carcieri vetoed an earlier version of the bill in 2008.