Advocates Praised Court’s “Crucial First Step” in Clearing Certified Marijuana Records!
Given the recent decision by the state to legalize the use and sale of recreational marijuana, Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell of the Rhode Island Supreme Court released the court’s regulations on Friday enabling potentially thousands of people to expunge past marijuana crimes from their records.
In accordance with the law passed last May that allows adults age 21 and older to possess cannabis and grow it at home, Suttell issued an executive order on Friday outlining the court’s procedures for expunging misdemeanor and felony marijuana possession charges and civil violations from people’s records.
The order was a result of state legislators seeing the “severe detrimental impact” those felony and misdemeanor convictions for low-level, non-violent marijuana possession charges had on people’s lives. The law gave the chief justice the ability to implement expungement procedures as a result.
Any previous civil infraction, misdemeanor, or felony conviction for possession of decriminalized marijuana will be automatically expunged from court records under the law. While more severe charges like intent to supply marijuana or manufacture will still be punished,
People 21 years of age and older are allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and up to 10 ounces of it at home under the state’s recreational marijuana law. It also permits people to keep three living plants and three dried plants in their homes, and it declares possession of one to two ounces of marijuana to be a civil infraction.
A provision for expungement had been strongly pushed for by advocacy groups, which emphasized how minorities had historically suffered disproportionately from simple possession offenses. People who have long advocated for legalization praised Suttell’s order as a significant and comprehensive move. “I’m really happy that this process is progressing.
This executive order is a critical first step in that process, as our coalition worked hard to guarantee automatic record clearing would be included in the statute, according to Jared Moffat, state campaign manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied for legalization for years. The result will bring relief to tens of thousands of individuals.
A positive trend that we are witnessing in more and more places when legalization policies are combined with initiatives to reverse the decades of harm brought on by prohibition, is something Rhode Island is contributing to. According to Suttell’s ruling, expungement processes must be put in place within the following three months by Superior and District Court judges as well as Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal magistrates.
All three courts will point out instances in which possession of marijuana was the only infraction that led to a civil violation or a conviction based on a finding of guilt or a plea of no contest. If a prison sentence, suspended sentence, probationary period, or other punishment was imposed, it will not matter whether it has been completed or not; those cases will be eligible for expungement.
The chief judge or magistrate will enter an order wiping the record if the courts decide that the criminal record should be purged. It will be sealed and all references to it will be taken down. The decision further stipulates that before expunging cases from records, the courts must provide a list of cases to the attorney general’s office that is judged eligible for expungement.
After that, the courts will transmit a copy of the expungement to the attorney general’s office and the police force that filed the initial complaint. In order to make sure that only legitimate cases are dismissed, Suttell orders the courts to put security precautions in place as well as review procedures. Additionally, the state Division of Motor Vehicles will get notice of the expungement of civil offenses.
A petitioner may also ask for the transmission of an expungement record to an organization known to have the conviction record. The judgment mandates that all three courts separately identify any instances in which a person was charged with a civil offense or marijuana possession, both of which are now decriminalized.
Those possession counts will also qualify for expungement, regardless of the sentence, but the whole criminal case as well as all records of additional convictions or violations will remain in effect and open to public inspection. If the courts decide that the criminal charge should be erased, the chief judge or magistrate will issue an order erasing the eligible charge, and by July 1, 2024, all references to it will be sealed and deleted from public scrutiny.
There is a comparable procedure in place to notify the attorney general’s office of charges that will be dropped, as well as safety measures to guarantee that only valid charges are dropped. According to Suttell‘s order, anybody may ask a court to erase a qualifying conviction or civil infraction by making a written request.
There are no costs involved in submitting a written request for expungement. The Clerk’s Offices of the Superior and District Courts in each county, as well as the Clerk’s Office of the Traffic Tribunal, may receive written requests for expungement in person or by email. The defendant’s name, birthdate, and case number should be included in requests for expedited expungements.
In accordance with the court order, expedited expungements must be examined and, if necessary, entered five business days after submission. Approximately 27,000 examples where possession of marijuana was the only charge eligible for expungement were uncovered during a review of court records shortly after the legalization law’s passing, and “thousands more” cases where possession was just one of many offenses someone was facing.