For informational purposes only. Always consult an attorney to obtain competent legal advice.

Criminal Violations

In General

  • In Rhode Island, criminal charges may be brought against any individual suspected of violation any of the state’s criminal laws. Any criminal violation is either a misdemeanor (punishable by up to no more than 1 year in prison) or a felony (punishable by up to more than 1 year in prison).

  • The District Court has jurisdiction over misdemeanor charges, and the Superior Court has jurisdiction over felony charges.

  • In general, the police department in the city or town in which the alleged violation occurred, or the state police if on a state highway or on state lands or involving white collar crimes, will investigate any alleged violation.

  • The local police department can bring and prosecute misdemeanor charges. The office of the Rhode Island Attorney General prosecutes a felony charge.

  • The federal government, acting through the U.S. District Attorney’s office, brings charges for alleged violations that occur on federal lands or that involve alleged violations of federal laws.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Malicious Prosecution

  • When a defendant is charged with a crime, or even when a civil claim is brought against him or her, if the criminal charge or civil claim was based upon false information intentionally provided by any person, the defendant who had to defend himself or herself against the criminal charges or civil claims may bring a civil claim against that person for Malicious Prosecution.

  • Generally, the defendant must successfully defend himself or herself against any such criminal charges or civil claims prior to commencing a civil suit for Malicious Prosecution. Since a claim for Malicious Prosecution alleges that the other person intentionally made false accusations, punitive damages can be requested along with all other damages that the person charged had to incur.

Expungement of Criminal Record

  • Rhode Island law provides a procedure of "expungement" whereby a record of criminal charges and/or a criminal conviction can be removed from a person’s official criminal record, as maintained by the Rhode Island Bureau of Criminal Information (BCI).

  • These laws seem to change every few years to make it either easier or more difficult for persons to clear their criminal record. In general, a person who has a record of a conviction for a nonviolent misdemeanor offense and who has no other record is entitled to having the record of that conviction removed, or “expunged”, after five years have passed following completion of any sentence imposed (including the expiration of any period of probation). If the conviction was for a felony, the waiting period is 10 years.

  • A recent amendment to the expungement statute allows individuals with multiple misdemeanor convictions, not exceeding six, to have the entire record of convictions expunged after 10 years has passed since satisfactory completion of all sentences, as long as the person has not been convicted of a felony or crime of violence, has no criminal charges pending and has exhibited "good moral character". Another amendment allows for expungement of convictions of crimes that have since been decriminalized.

  • Another amendment to the expungement statute pertains only to individuals who have a single conviction and were given a deferred sentence. Upon satisfactory completion of the sentence, including payment of all fines, restitution and other conditions, the person may immediately apply to have his or her conviction expunged.

  • Because of the difficulty experienced by persons with criminal records to obtain employment, the recent trend is to allow more leniency for expungement of criminal records.

  • If criminal charges against a person were dismissed, the person is entitled to having his or her record of those charges removed in most cases. In such a case, there is no conviction to be “expunged”; instead, the record of the charges are “sealed”. However, the record of the arrest may not be expunged, depending upon the circumstances.

Plea Bargain Process

  • Any criminal defendant must carefully consider if and when to waive any of these rights and should consult with an attorney before doing so. Many persons charged with criminal violations will be offered a lenient punishment in exchange for pleading guilty or “nolo”. Even defendants that believe they are innocent of all charges may be tempted to admit guilt in order to end the legal proceedings. However, enormous and lasting damage can be done to a person’s reputation caused by any record of a conviction.

  • Even if the record of the conviction is ultimately removed by way of expungement, an unofficial “record” of the charges and/or admission of guilt may continue to exist online almost indefinitely. Therefore, enduring the inconvenience, cost and stress of contesting criminal charges in court may in the long run be preferable to simply pleading “nolo” if the charges are untrue.

Criminal Procedure

  • An arrest may be made or a summons to appear in court may be served upon the individual charged.

  • Ordinarily, the first court appearance is the “arraignment”, where the person charged (called the “defendant”) enters a plea of guilty or not guilty; or the charge is dismissed.

  • If all charges are not resolved at the arraignment by either dismissal or the entering of some plea (such as “nolo contendere”), the matter proceeds to the pre-trial stage and then to trial.

  • Any U.S. Citizen accused of a crime has many constitutional rights guaranteed to him or her by the U.S. and Rhode Island Constitutions, including the right to a trial by jury. Since the Rhode Island District Court does not conduct jury trials, a defendant may demand a jury trial even if found guilty in the District Court. In such a case, the charges are re-filed in the Superior Court and the process starts all over.

  • Other constitutional rights include the presumption of innocence, the right to confront and cross examine any witnesses who testify on behalf of the prosecution, the right to not be forced to testify against oneself, and the right to competent legal counsel.  Defendants also have the right to take an appeal if found guilty.