Rhode Island
 Restoration of Rights, Pardon, Expungement & Sealing

Last updated:  April 16, 2024

I.  Loss & restoration of civil/firearms rights

A.  Voting

Rhode Island Constitution provides that “No person who is incarcerated in a correctional facility upon a felony conviction shall be permitted to vote until such person is discharged from the facility. Upon discharge, such person’s right to vote shall be restored.”  R.I. Const. art. II, § 1.1  The department of corrections acts as a voter registration agency with certain duties as part of the release from prison. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.2-3.

B.  Jury & public office

A person convicted of a felony “shall not be allowed” to serve as a juror until completion of sentence.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-9-1.1(c).  A person is disqualified from public office if convicted of a felony, or a misdemeanor resulting in a jail sentence of six months or more, either suspended or to be served.  R.I. Const. art. III, § 2.  The right is automatically restored three years after completion of sentence or earlier by pardon.  See R.I. Const. art. IX, § 13; R.I. Gen. Laws § 13-10-1.

C.  Juveniles

Juvenile adjudications do not “impose any of the civil disabilities ordinarily resulting from a conviction.”  R.I. Gen. Laws § 14-1-40.

D.  Firearms

A person convicted of a “crime of violence” is prohibited from possessing any firearm, including those sentenced to community confinement or electronic surveillance, with no relief specified. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-5(a)(1), (c).  Firearms also may not be possessed by a person convicted of specified crimes involving domestic violence “unless and until that person’s matter has been expunged, or upon the completion of the sentence of a one-year filing, or the end of a one-year probationary period that no longer constitutes a conviction pursuant to § 12-18-3.” § 11-47-5(a)(3)-(5).  

II.  Pardon policy & practice

A.  Authority

Power vested in governor, “by and with the advice and consent of the senate,” except in cases of impeachment.  R.I. Const. art. IX, § 13.  According to the Office of the Governor, a pardon restores ones right to hold public office and lifts occupational and licensing bars.  There is no express eligibility requirement – the process is unstructured and petitioners must comply with “any rules and regulations respecting [pardon application] filing and hearing that [the governor] may from time to time prescribe.”  See R.I. Gen. Laws § 13-10-1.

B.  Frequency of grants

No pardon to a living person2 has been issued in more than a decade, which may explain the fact that there are only a handful of applicants each year.  (Requirement of going to legislature for consent evidently discourages exercise of power.)  Source: Office of the Governor.

C.  Contact

Andrea Iannazzi
Special Counsel to Governor

III.  Expungement,  sealing & other record relief

Rhode Island law provides for three distinct types of expungement pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-1.3-2:  1) “first offenders,” defined as those with a single felony or misdemeanor conviction; 2) those with between two and six misdemeanor convictions; and 3) those who successfully completed deferred sentences.  It also provides additional authority for expunging other deferred dispositions as well as decriminalized offenses, and for sealing non-conviction and juvenile records. Sealing and expungement have been held to be functionally identical.  State v. Faria, 947 A.2d 863, 866, n.3 (R.I. 2008).

A.  “First offenders” and misdemeanors


“First offenders” may petition for expungement of the record of conviction after 10 arrest-free years (for felonies) or 5 arrest-free years (for misdemeanors). R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-1.3-3(b). Individuals with between 2 and 6 misdemeanor convictions may petition to expunge after 10 arrest-free years (see below).  Waiting periods begin upon completion of sentence.  Id. “First offender” is defined as “a person who has been convicted of a felony offense or a misdemeanor offense, and who has not been previously convicted of or placed on probation for a felony or a misdemeanor and against whom there is no criminal proceeding pending in any court.”  § 12-1.3-1(3).  The definition has been interpreted strictly to extend only to “a single” conviction, so that any prior or subsequent conviction is disqualifying. See State v. Badessa, 869 A. 2d 61 (R.I. 2005). First offender expungement is unavailable to persons convicted of specified serious violent offenses.  § 12-1.3-2; § 12-1.3-1(1).  In addition, all outstanding court-imposed fees, fines, and any other monetary obligations must have been paid, unless waived by order of the court. § 12-1.3-3(b)(1) and demonstrated rehabilitation. § 12-1.3-3(b)(2).

In September of 2017, expungement eligibility for misdemeanors was expanded to include individuals with between 2 and 6 convictions, who may petition to expunge those convictions after 10 arrest-free years. §§ 12-1.3-2(b), (f); 12-1.3-3(b)(iii) (added by H-5205 (2017)).  Individuals convicted of a felony at any time are ineligible under this new provision, as are those with pending charges. §§ 12-1.3-2(b); 12-1.3-3(b)(iii). Domestic violence and DUI convictions may not be expunged under this new provision.  § 12-1.3-2(b).  The new provision applies retroactively to convictions that predate its enactment.  H-5205, § 2 (2017).

All persons seeking expungement must have paid LFOs and must demonstrate “good moral character.” § 12-1.3-3(b)(1)(i), 12-1.3-3(b)(2).


Petitioner must give notice to Attorney General and prosecutor at least 10 days prior to hearing date.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-1.3-3(a).  After hearing, court may in its discretion order expungement if it finds that “there are no criminal proceedings pending against the person, and he or she has exhibited good moral character” and that “the petitioner’s rehabilitation has been attained to the court’s satisfaction and the expungement of the records of his or her conviction is consistent with the public interest.” § 12-1.3-3(b).  If the court grants the motion, it shall order all records and records of conviction relating to the conviction expunged and all index and other references to it deleted.  § 12-1.3-3(c). In 2021, a $100 expungement fee was repealed. See R.I. Laws Ch. 21-141. A copy of the order of the court shall be sent to any law enforcement agency and other agency known by either the petitioner, the department of the attorney general, or the court to have possession of the records.  Compliance with the order shall be according to the terms specified by the court.  Id.


“Expungement of records” is defined as “the sealing and retention of all records of a conviction and/or probation and the removal from active files of all records and information relating to conviction and/or probation.”  § 12-1.3-1(2).  Expungement releases recipient “from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the crime,” except that it may serve as a predicate offense, for sentencing purposes, in a subsequent prosecution.  § 12-1.3-4(a).  Generally, expungement relieves legal disabilities (including firearms disabilities).  See § 12-1.3-4.  A person whose conviction has been expunged “may state that he or she has never been convicted of the crime” in “any application for employment, license, or other civil right or privilege, or any appearance as a witness,” except that conviction must be disclosed in applications for certain jobs and licenses involving teaching, early childhood education, law enforcement, coaching, and the practice of law.  § 12-1.3-4(b).  Expunged records also remain available to entities charged with hiring and licensing in those specific areas.  § 12-1.3-4(c), (d).  Unauthorized disclosure may lead to civil liability.  § 12-1.3-4(d).

B.  Nolo plea followed by probation

Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-18-3, a person who pleads nolo contendere and is placed on probation without judgment will have no conviction if probation is successfully completed, and sealing is available on same basis as other non-conviction records under § 12-1-12.1(a). Evidence of the nolo plea may not be introduced in any court proceeding, except that it may be provided a court in a subsequent criminal proceeding.  Where the offense constitutes a crime of violence, the plea shall be deemed a conviction for purposes of purchasing a firearm, § 12-18-3(c).

C.  Deferred sentences (deferred adjudication)

Deferred sentencing is broadly available to courts in Rhode Island.  See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 12-19-19.  Effective in 2016, expungement may be sought immediately upon completion of deferred sentencing under § 12-19-19(c); 12-1.3-2(d).   Expungement is discretionary and may be granted only if “the court finds that the person has complied with all of the terms and conditions of the deferral agreement including, but not limited to, the payment in full of any court-ordered fines, fees, costs, assessments, and restitution to victims of crimes; there are no criminal proceedings pending against the person; and he or she has established good moral character.”  § 12-1.3-3(b)(ii).  Specified serious violent offenses are ineligible.  Id.; § 12-1.3-1.  This expungement authority applies to all deferred sentencing agreements, whether completed before or after the enactment of the 2016 law.  HB-7025, § 3 (2016).

D.  Expungement of other deferred dispositions


A post-plea disposition pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-10-12 (“Filing of Complaints”) results in the automatic destruction of the complaint after one year of good behavior (no arrests during this year and compliance with all imposed conditions of the “filing”). Conditions of a filing may include restitution totaling less than two hundred dollars, community service, and other conditions determined by the court. There is a three-year waiting period for the destruction of filed domestic violence cases.

Drug Court

Post-plea cases sent to drug court are dismissed and expunged after successful completion of the program. http://www.courts.ri.gov/PublicResources/forms/Superior%20Court%20Forms/Adult%20Drug%20Court%20-%20Contract.pdf.

E.  Expungement of decriminalized offenses

Effective July 2, 2018, a new authority allows a person to file a motion for the expungement of records “related to an offense that has been decriminalized subsequent to the date of their conviction.”   Id. § 12-1.3-2(g); S 2447; H 8355. This includes marijuana possession convictions.  The court in which the conviction took place must hold a hearing and may require the person to demonstrate that the prior criminal conviction is decriminalized under current law.  Id. § 12-1.3-3(e).  If the court finds that all conditions of the sentence have been completed, and any related fines, fees, and costs have been paid, the court shall order the expungement without cost to the petitioner.  Id.

F.  Automatic expungement of marijuana convictions

Effective May 25, 2022, the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, S2430, authorized automatic expungement of any conviction for cannabis possession, use or purchase legalized by the Act (1 oz. or less anywhere, 10 oz. within the home), at a timeline determined by the presiding justice but no later than July 2024. See R.I. Gen. Laws §12-1.3-5.  Waives expungement costs for anyone who has been incarcerated due to a marijuana conviction. These expungements are available notwithstanding previous convictions, additional convictions in other counts in the same case, pending criminal proceedings, and outstanding court costs and fees. Allows an individual to deny their conviction when asked, with a few occupational exceptions (law enforcement, bar admission, teaching, coaching, early childhood education). The Act contains a number of other provisions relating to sale and cultivation of cannabis, including licensed vendors.   

G. Sealing of non-conviction records

Sealing of non-conviction records is available by petition. R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-1-12.1(a): “Any person who is acquitted or otherwise exonerated of all counts in a criminal case, including, but not limited to, dismissal or filing of a no true bill or no information, may file a motion for the sealing of his or her court records in the case.”  In 2021 a proviso in this section limiting relief to those with no prior felony conviction was repealed, and a $100 fee was also repealed. See R.I. Laws Ch. 21-141 and 21-142.3 If the court, after a hearing “finds that the person is entitled to the sealing of the records, it shall order the sealing of the court records of the person in that case.” § 12-1-12.1(c).

Wrongful arrests:  Records of arrests determined to be “wrongful” by law enforcement (whether due to mistaken identity, lack of probable cause, or “any other reason”) must be sealed 60 days after the determination if no charges are brought. § 12-1-12.2(b).  See also § 12-1-12.2(f):

The person arrested, detained or otherwise identified as a suspect and who is thereafter exonerated may deny for any purpose that the arrest ever occurred and under no circumstances shall such an arrestee be required to disclose the arrest for any purpose including, but not limited to, any application for employment, professional license, concealed weapons permit or the purchase of a firearm or other weapon.

G.  Juvenile records

Records are automatically sealed, with limited exceptions, upon final disposition of a juvenile case, which includes dismissal, a finding of not guilty, and adjudication and completion of any sentence.  R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 14-1-6.1, 14-1-64(b).  Juvenile adjudication can be used for sentencing purposes in adult court and does constitute a conviction for impeachment purposes.

H.  Frequency of grants

According to statistics compiled by the Rhode Island Judicial Technology Center, as reported in the Providence Journal, in 2014 Rhode Island courts sealed the records of 2,798 felonies and 8,800 misdemeanors, where there was an admission of guilt, a no contest plea, or a conviction. In 2013, the number of expunged cases totaled 13,385, including 2,076 felonies and 10,974 misdemeanors.  http://www.providencejournal.com/article/20150413/NEWS/150419664.  These numbers represent a marked increase from the previous two years:  in 2012, 269 felonies were expunged and 3,929 misdemeanors were expunged, and those numbers represent a 36 percent increase from the 3,091 total expungments granted in 2011.  According to court statistics, in the nine years between 2000 and 2008, Rhode Island courts expunged the records of 42,080 convictions, of which 4,304 were felonies.  The total number of records expunged between 2000 and 2008, including non-conviction dispositions, was 74,941.  The numbers in all categories have been trending upwards each year since 2000.

I. Certificate of Recovery & Re-entry

Effective July 1, 2014, a person with no more than one non-violent felony conviction may apply to the Parole Board, after completion of sentence and a waiting period, for a “certificate of recovery & re-entry” which may serve to “relieve the petitioner, in appropriate cases, of some of the collateral consequences resulting from his or her criminal record.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 13-8.2-1.  Specifically, the certificate may “serve as one determining factor as to whether the petitioner has been successful in his or her rehabilitation.” See also § 13-8.2-2(5)(a certificate “shall serve as one determining factor, consistent with concerns of public safety, of the person’s ability to obtain employment, professional licenses, housing and other benefits and opportunities. Provided, further, that said instrument shall serve as a determination that the person receiving it has successfully achieved his or her recovery & re-entry goals as provided for in § 13-8.2-4.”) Under a 2020 law, licensing applicants convicted of crimes that “substantially relate to the occupation for which a license is sought shall not be disqualified from the occupation if the person can show competent evidence of sufficient rehabilitation.” (See IV, B Occupational or business licensing below for further detail.)

Eligibility criteria are established in § 13-8.2-2(4)(no more than one felony conviction) and (8) (violent crimes ineligible), and those with convictions from other jurisdictions are eligible to apply.  The “minimum period of recovery & re-entry” is one year where the most serious conviction is a misdemeanor, and three years for a non-violent felony.  The waiting period “shall be measured either from the date of the payment of any fine imposed upon him or her, or from the date of his or her release from the institutional facility, custody by parole or home confinement, whichever is later.”  The certificate does not result in expungement or sealing, or limit the procedure for applying for a pardon. § 13-8.2-6. Although the Board has the power to promulgate any additional rules or regulations governing certificates, it has yet to do so. § 13-8.2-5(d). A search through the Board’s meeting minutes found no record of anyone applying for or receiving a certificate in 2023.

IV.  Criminal record in employment & licensing

A.  Employment: Ban-the-Box

R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-5-7(7) prohibits as an unlawful employment practice any inquiry orally or in writing to an applicant for public or private employment about arrests and (effective January 1, 2014) convictions until the first interview. The statute includes an exception for positions related to law enforcement agencies, positions for which federal or state law or regulation creates “a mandatory or presumptive disqualification from employment” based upon conviction, and positions for which the requirement of a standard fidelity bond would require disqualification based upon conviction.

B.  Occupational or business licensing

In August 2020 Rhode Island enacted its first generally applicable law regulating the occupational licensing process, and extended it as well to professional and business licenses issues by state agencies.  As amended by S2824 , R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-5.1-14 applies a “substantial relationship” standard to licensing boards under most departments of state government, defines it in detail, excludes certain records from consideration, allows applicants to establish rehabilitation by detailed standards, provides detailed procedures in the event of denial, suspension or revocation, and includes accountability standards.  The “substantially related” standard is defined as follows: 

In determining if a conviction substantially relates to the occupation for which the license is sought, the licensing authority shall consider:

(1) The state’s legitimate interest in equal access to employment for individuals who have had past contact with the criminal justice system;
(2) The state’s legitimate interest in protecting the property and the safety and welfare of specific individuals or the general public; and
(3) The relationship of the crime or crimes to the ability, capacity, and fitness required to perform the duties and discharge the responsibilities of the position of employment or occupation.

§ 28-5.1-14(f).   A person “shall not be disqualified from the occupation if the person
can show competent evidence of sufficient rehabilitation and present fitness to perform the duties of the occupation for which the license is sought.”  In establishing rehabilitation, a variety of factors must be considered, including whether there person has spent two crime-free years in the community. § 28-5.1-14(g).  Records that may not be considered are non-conviction records, juvenile records, expunged records, records of misdemeanors that may not be punished by incarceration, and any crime that is not substantially related. § 28-5.1-14(h). 

If a licensing authority intends to deny, suspend, or revoke an occupational license solely or in part because of a conviction, the person must be given reasons in writing, and if the conviction is “substantially related” an analysis under each of the criteria in § 28-5.1-14(f).  The person must be permitted to respond, and given an opportunity to appeal.  § 28-5.1-14(i)-(k).  Every agency must post on its website a report with “(1) the number of applicants granted licenses, the number of applicants denied licenses for any reason, and, to the extent available, the demographic breakdown of the applicants, including race, ethnicity, and gender, and city or town of residence; and (2) The number of applicants denied solely, or in part, because of a criminal conviction. § 28-5.1-14(l).  The law is to take effect on January 1, 2021. 

C.  Juvenile adjudications

Juvenile court adjudications do not “operate to disqualify the child in any future civil service application, examination, or appointment.”  R.I. Gen. Laws § 14-1-40.

  1. Prior to 2006 constitutional amendment, art. II, § 1 provided that “No felon shall be permitted to vote until completion of such felon’s sentence, served or suspended, and of parole or probation.”  That provision, approved by the voters in 1986, replaced a provision requiring persons convicted of a felony wishing to regain the vote to petition the General Assembly.
  2. In 2011, Governor Chafee issued a pardon to a man infamously hanged in 1845, who many believe was wrongfully convicted of murder.  The pardon was ostensibly granted to recognize and uphold the state’s commitment to opposing the death penalty.  See Rhode Island Government Press Releases, Governor Lincoln D. Chafee Pardons John Gordon (June 28, 2011), available at http://www.ri.gov/press/view/14182. 
  3. Probationary sentences following a nolo contendere plea to a felony are not considered convictions for the purpose of determining sealing eligibility.  § 12-18-3(a); see also State v. Poulin, 66 A.3d 419 (R.I. 2013).