By Kristen Sherman Esq.
The House and the Senate recently passed companion bills that would enable more convicted criminals to get their records sealed through a process known as expungement. Current Rhode Island law allows judges to permanently seal from public view the record of nonviolent crimes by first offenders.
Eligibility for expungement varies depending on one’s criminal record. One convicted of a misdemeanor is eligible for expungement five years after completion of his sentence, while one convicted of a felony must wait 10 years after the completion of his sentence to apply for expungement.
Under the new law, the criminal record of anyone who has been given a deferred sentence after pleading guilty or no contest will be expunged after five years, provided that he or she stays on good behavior. Expungement would be automatic, regardless of the age or criminal history of the offender and the nature of the crime.
The new law would be good news for job seekers and for those looking to rent apartments. Because many landlords and employers ask applicants to disclose any criminal convictions, many people may be denied housing or employment due to their criminal records. Expungement allows convicted criminals to legally state that they have never been convicted of a crime.
The proposed legislation would also allow more people to work in the fields of nursing, social work, and auto repair. Under current law, people with certain felony convictions are prohibited from obtaining state licenses to work these fields; the new law would remove this barrier to employment.
Although Governor Carcieri vetoed a similar version of the expungement legislation in 2008, he has allowed the legislation to become law without his signature.
The House passed the bill by a margin of 67-5, and the Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 34-1. Given the strong level of support the legislation would have been veto-proof if necessary.