Fighting a District Court’s Denial to Seal or Expunge Criminal Records

State vs. Doris E. Poulin


In 1996, Doris E. Poulin was charged with possession of a controlled substance.  She pleaded nolo contendere and was sentenced to 2 years of probation, community service, and substance abuse counseling.  She successfully completed all the terms of her probation.

The second charge came when Poulin was arrested for driving on a suspended license that same year. This case was dismissed.  Fast forward to 2009, and Poulin was again arrested – this time for a misdemeanor DUI, which was also dismissed.

In 2013, Poulin petitioned for a motion to seal her criminal records for DUI and driving on a suspended license. The application was denied because the trial judge based the decision on the first arrest for drug possession – which the judge deemed to be a felony conviction.

Rhode Island law precludes sealing even a dismissed criminal record when the applicant has a prior felony conviction.

The trial judge deemed Doris Poulin’s prior sentence of probation as a conviction, despite her being given a probation and no jail time.

The Supreme Court ruled that when considering statutes, the entire statutory scheme must be considered and just parts of the document in order to avoid interpreting lines out of context.

The Supreme Court reexamined the case, and decided that because the misdemeanor cases were dismissed, the defendant was indeed eligible to seal her criminal record. 


The Supreme Court ruled that:

Sealing and expungement constitutes two separate court proceedings, both of which have varied benefits.

Poulin’s sentence of probation was not a conviction for purposes of the sealing statute.

The District Court’s decision was reversed by the Supreme Court:

“Rhode Island’s Supreme Court ruled that a defendant with two dismissed cases was eligible to seal the criminal records of those dismissed cases despite having been previously sentenced to a term of probation.  For purposes of sealing criminal records, a satisfactorily completed sentence of a term of probation does not constitute a prior felony conviction.  The petitioner was represented by a law student from Roger Williams University School of Law’s outstanding Criminal Defense Clinic.”

Legal Help for Sealing Criminal Records in Rhode Island:

If you’ve been denied a motion to seal or expunge a criminal record/s, don’t take it as a final decision. With the help of a knowledgeable attorney, you stand a better chance at winning your freedom back, so you can get a good job – and a great life without judgment from your past records.

Contact the RI criminal defense attorneys at 401-272-4001.
Source: Rhode Island Supreme Court