Rhode Island Legislation Allows Expungement Of Former Offenses

By Benjie Cooper

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A pair of bills gained Governor Gina M Raimondo’s [D] signature recently, letting people have past criminal convictions wiped from their record.

Bills 2018-S 2447 and 2018-H 8355 allow people with records for crimes that have since been decriminalized to petition the court in which they were convicted to purge the offenses from their file. The petitioner must have completed the conditions of their sentence and payed all associated costs and fees.

“Once an act has been decriminalized, and we’ve decided it doesn’t count as an offense against society, there is no point to leaving that albatross hanging around the necks of those who were previously convicted,” stated Senator Harold Metts [D], one of the sponsors of the legislation. “Let them move on, and they can better support themselves and their families and contribute to our communities.”

Rhode Island decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of cannabis in 2013, easing the burden on the court system and jails. A $150 fine was imposed instead of a sentence involving time behind bars.

“We must address the punitive laws on our books that don’t contribute to reducing crime and instead hold people back from gaining employment, taking care of themselves and their families, and contributing to society,” stated Representative Scott Slater [D], another one of the bills’ sponsors. “We did that when we decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and allowing those who were already convicted of it to expunge that record is a way to correct the lingering negative effects.”

S2447 also permits people to have felony convictions expunged ten years after the completion of their sentence.

While neither bill explicitly mentions marijuana convictions, Rhode Island joins other states like Massachusetts, Oregon, Delaware, and California where legislation is in place that allows for the expungement of cannabis-related offenses.