In Rhode Island, individuals may be charged with a misdemeanor, a felony, a civil violation or an ordinance violation.  It has long been established that those individuals charged with a misdemeanor or felony may be eligible for a motion to seal/motion to expunge if they meet certain criteria.  However, Rhode Island judges have varied in their stance on sealing/expunging civil violations, until recently when the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued a decision in the State of Rhode Island v. Zachary Charlwood.

The Charlwood Case

In this case, the defendant, Zachary Charlwood, was charged with operating on a suspended license– first offense, which is a civil violation under Rhode Island law.  The case was ultimately dismissed and he then filed a Motion to Seal.  The District Court judge eventually denied Mr. Charlwood’s Motion to Seal, stating that the sealing and expungement statutes only apply to criminal offenses and not civil violations.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned this decision holding that Rhode Island General Laws §12-1-12(b) extends the requirements of § 12-1-12(a) “the sealing statute”   to persons detained by police, but not arrested or charged with an offense, or to persons against whom charges have been filed by the court, and the period of such filing has expired.  The Court found that “Charlwood was in fact detained by police, but he neither was charged with a criminal offense nor were charges against him filed by the court in accordance with G.L. 1956 § 12-10-12.3 Accordingly… he falls squarely within the purview of § 12-1-12(b) and is entitled to the benefits of § 12-1-12(a) with respect to the destruction and sealing of his records.” Therefore, the Court said that a civil violation for operating on a suspended license (and other civil violations) could be sealed under this portion of the law.

Application to Rhode Islanders Charged with Civil Offenses

This case is important for individuals charged with civil offenses in the District Court, who ultimately want to seal or expunge said records.  Some of these civil violations include Driving on a Suspended License- first and second offense (§ 31-11-18) and Driving While Impaired (§ 31-27-2.7).

This case is also important for people who may have been a suspect in a crime and were detained by police, but were never actually charged.  For these individuals, there may still be fingerprints, photographs, statements, and other evidence on file, that they wish to have destroyed.

Process for Expunging Civil Violations

The process for sealing a civil violation is the same process for sealing a criminal offense. First, the Motion must be drafted, signed/notarized, and filed with the Court.  The Court will assign a court date in no less than ten (10) days.  Notice of this Motion and court date must be given to the Police Department that brought the case and the Department of the Attorney General.  On the hearing date, if the Motion is granted, the Court will issue an Order, which must then be provided to the Bureau of Criminal Identification and the Police Department, so that they may remove all records of the case. Note that if it was a suspended license or other driving-related violation, a copy of the Order should also be provided to the Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure that the violation does not appear on the defendant’s driving record.

Do you have civil violations or criminal charges on your record that you wish to seal or expunge? If so, call the experienced Rhode Island expungement lawyers at Abilheira Law.  Our lawyers have set precedent on sealing and expungement in RI and can help clear your record.  Call now for a free consultation, 401-245-5100.