April 5, 2024

Rhode Island legislators are attempting to pass two bills that would greatly expand access to expungement in the state. These bills would remove limitations on expungement for misdemeanors with felonies present and expand access to expungements for simple drug possession.

The first of these bills is S 2454, filed in the state senate earlier this year by Senator Jake Bissaillon. S 2454 would eliminate Rhode Island’s current limitations on expungement for those with felony convictions. Currently, Rhode Island’s expungement regulations read:

“[A]ny person who has been convicted of more than one misdemeanor, but fewer than six (6) misdemeanors, and has not been convicted of a felony may file a motion for the expungement of any or all of those misdemeanors by filing a motion in the court in which the convictions took place; provided that convictions for offenses under chapter 29 of title 12, § 31-27-2 or § 31-27-2.1 are not eligible for and may not be expunged under this subsection.”

S 2454 would strike the limitation “…and has not been convicted of a felony” from the law. Removing this limitation would allow individuals previously convicted of a felony to expunge up to five criminal records from their record, sealing them from public view. The bill received backing from the state’s Public Defender’s Office and Commission for Human Rights. The full Senate will vote on the legislation in the upcoming days.

Senator Matthew LaMountain introduced the second bill, S 2227, earlier this year. The Senate will vote on this expungement-related bill on the same day. It seeks to expand access to expungements for simple drug possession.

Offenses considered a felony before recent changes reducing it to a misdemeanor do not qualify for expungement under current laws. As such, those with convictions for possessing small quantities of drugs like cocaine or heroin cannot seek expungement. Passing S 2227 would change that by adding the following to the misdemeanor definition: 

“Misdemeanor includes, but is not limited to, those crimes previously classified as felonies under law at the time the original sentence was imposed but reclassified by the general assembly as a misdemeanor in the interim, prior to the time the motion to expunge is brought.”

The state Senate will determine the fate of S 2454 and S 2227 in their upcoming vote, though it remains uncertain what the Senate will decide. If passed, both would greatly expand eligibility for those currently unable to request expungements.

Information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only and should not constitute as legal advice. We recommend you contact your own legal counsel for any questions regarding your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.