Rep. Knight Sponsors Host of Criminal Justice Reform Bills
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Jason Knight has introduced a number of bills aimed at addressing injustices within Rhode Island’s criminal justice system.
Representative Knight, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, is an attorney in private practice and worked for the Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General as a special assistant attorney general from 2006 to 2010. The bills address anachronisms and contradictions he has encountered while practicing law, and are aimed at eliminating roadblocks that, in many cases, hurt Rhode Islanders who have not been convicted of wrongdoing.
“These bills are each an effort to contribute to criminal justice reform, to prevent Rhode Islanders from being held back by arrests that never result in conviction or acts that have since been decriminalized, and ensure that people can’t be jailed for long periods without charges. Public safety and justice are better served when only those who are proven guilty are punished, and these bills are all aimed at getting our system closer to that standard,” said Representative Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren).
Several of the bills are aimed helping those who have been acquitted, exonerated or have charges dismissed. His bills would allow their records to be expunged without fees (2021-H 5084), allow the arrest records to be sealed (2021-H 5086), and terminate imprisonment of those jailed on a probation violation when the triggering offense leading to the violation is dismissed by the government (2021-H 5085).
One bill (2021-H 5103) would allow expungement of convictions for crimes that were later decriminalized, including misdemeanor and felony convictions for marijuana, and another (2021-H 5636) would reduce from 10 to 5 years the time a person must wait to be eligible for expungement for simple drug possession. Another bill (2021-H 5090) would allow post-conviction remedy for those whose conviction was based on scientific evidence that has since been discredited.
One bill (2021-H 5089) would reduce from six months to three months the length of time someone can be held without bail without an indictment, and another (2021-H 5649) codifies the procedure when the accused is held without bail while ensuring the judge retains the discretion to make bail decisions.
Representative Knight has also introduced legislation (2021-H 5091) that would allow the courts to require social media companies to provide evidence in response to a subpoena or warrant in the same way individuals are required now. Representative Knight noted that social media companies are currently free to ignore state-level subpoenas, which endangers the right to a fair trial.
An additional bill (2021-H 5087) would require the Department of Corrections or the executive branch to issue an annual report on its compliance with justice reinvestment policies, which would reallocate criminal justice resources from incarceration to treatment to improve public safety, reduce costs and promote rehabilitation of past offenders so they can successfully reenter society.
“It’s widely recognized that the American criminal justice system needs reform so that it can be a better tool to make our communities safer and stronger. These bills represent a collection of ideas to address injustices I’ve run across, but there are much larger themes to address. I hope these bills are part of a much greater conversation about justice and effective rehabilitation,” said Representative Knight.