Rhode Island Deferred Sentences & Expungement

A recent decision by Justice Rodgers of the Rhode Island Superior Court has altered the landscape for criminal defendants serving deferred sentences.  Deferred sentences, like the name suggests, are a sentence, which is deferred and may never be imposed, if the defendant complies with specific terms.  Deferred sentences are a common plea disposition in felony cases involving first time offenders.  Instead of taking the case to trial, a defendant promises to keep the peace and be of good behavior for a period of five (5) years.  At the end of five (5) years, if the defendant remains out of trouble, the sentence is never imposed.

In June of 2010, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed 12-19-19 regarding deferred sentences.  Pursuant to the new law:

If a person, after the completion of the five (5) year deferment period is determined by the court to have complied with all of the terms and conditions of the written deferral agreement, then the person shall be exonerated of the charges for which sentence was deferred and records relating to the criminal complaint, information or indictment shall be sealed pursuant to the provision of ยง 12-1-12. Further, if any record of the criminal complaint, information or indictment has been entered into a docket or alphabetical index, whether in writing or electronic information storage or other data compilation system, all references to the identity of the person charged by the complaint shall be sealed.

By having the case sealed, the defendant will not have a criminal record.  Deferred sentences are thought to be advantageous to both the prosecution and defense.  The court system is not clogged by too many trials and the defendant, if he stays out of trouble, is given a second chance.

The decision by Justice Rodgers concerns deferred sentences that were entered into prior to the new law.  Based on her decision, defendants who successfully complete their deferred sentence cannot have their record sealed, but rather they are eligible to have their record expunged. The difference between an expungement and a sealed record is crucial.

Pursuant to Rhode Island General Law, 12-1.3-3, the expungement statute, a defendant must wait five (5) years preceding the filing of the motion, if the conviction was for a misdemeanor, or in the ten (10) years preceding the filing of the motion if the conviction was for a felony, the petitioner has not been convicted nor arrested for any felony or misdemeanor, there are no criminal proceedings pending against the person, and he or she has exhibited good moral character.  Because deferred sentences are only given in felony cases, a defendant must wait an additional ten (10) years after the deferred sentence is completed before it can be expunged.

If you or a family member has been charged with a felony or misdemeanor and want the charge expunged, please allow Attorney Robert H. Humphrey's reputation, experience and skill to successfully guide you through the legal process.  Contact Robert H. Humphrey at 401-816-5862 or e-mail him at
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