Most people don’t think much about the Rhode Island criminal case process until they’re hit with criminal charges. The thing is, wrapping your head around the RI legal system and understanding the “legal-ese” is a big undertaking—especially when you’re already stressed about your case.
The exact way yours will unfold depends on several specific details.
Generally speaking, though, you’re first arrested and arraigned. Then you go through pre-trial hearings, motions, and other procedures you’re legally entitled to. If your case goes to trial instead of being dismissed or resolved with a plea bargain, you’ll then receive a verdict and a sentence if found guilty. Finally, there’s also the appeals process.
And you can’t overstate the value of a skilled, aggressive Rhode Island criminal defense attorney like S. Joshua Macktaz throughout the entire process. Without legal representation, it’s nearly impossible for you to ensure your rights are protected and that you win the best possible outcome.
The types and severity of Rhode Island criminal charges you’re facing factor into what the criminal case process will look like, too. Keep reading to learn absolutely everything you need to know about the Rhode Island criminal case process.
The four types of RI criminal charges are felonies, petty misdemeanors, misdemeanors, and violations. But as violations only involve a fine and no jail time, the most potentially impactful categories are felonies and misdemeanors.
In Rhode Island, a felony is any crime that can be punished by between one year in jail and life in prison. A few examples include arson, murder, rape and/or sex crimes, and aggravated assault.
A misdemeanor in RI is any crime that can be punished by up to one year of imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding $1,000. Some examples are DUI, trespassing, shoplifting, and simple assault.
To be charged with a crime in Rhode Island, the elements of a crime must be present. This typically involved two elements: Actus Reus and Mens Rea.
Actus Reus means “guilty act” in Latin. Basically, the act of committing the crime in question. Mens Rea, on the other hand, is Latin for “guilty mind.” This essentially means committing the act with full knowledge that it’s a crime, or committing the act recklessly.
And in Rhode Island, the burden of proof is on the prosecution—meaning they need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you both physically committed the crime and were mentally aware of doing so.
You should also know that certain offenses have specific additional elements the prosecution must prove, but these vary from case to case.
After you’re arrested in Rhode Island, you’ll be brought to a local police station for processing. This includes a police officer gathering info about your demographic, taking photos, and taking fingerprints. You’ll also be afforded the right to an attorney at this stage.
The Rhode Island criminal case process is set into motion the moment you’re arrested. But things happen so fast in this phase that staying aware of your rights and options can be challenging.
When you have an expert Rhode Island criminal defense attorney by your side from the beginning, navigating these next steps is far more straightforward.
If you’ve ever seen a true crime TV show or a crime drama, you already know you have the right to remain silent.
But your rights during police interrogation go so much further.
You can also refuse consent. Anytime an officer asks you to show or give them something, odds are it’s because they need your permission. You’re allowed to say no—this can even be the best option in many cases.
The officers are also only allowed to hold you for up to two hours if you haven’t been formally arrested. And once you’ve been arrested, the law requires the officers to read off your Miranda Rights before proceeding further.
Your bail and release options in Rhode Island depend on the exact details of your case and if you already have a criminal record.
The two basic options are monetary bail and non-monetary, which can be based on personal recognizance. If the court feels that you aren’t a flight risk and your charges allow for it, all you have to do in order to be released is promise to appear for future court hearings.
Otherwise, you’ll have to meet other conditions. Some examples include alcohol and/or drug screenings, no-contact orders, and counseling. Finally, monetary bail can be imposed if you have outstanding warrants, if you’ve violated bail/probation/parole before, or if the court feels you’re likely to commit further crimes or skip town.
Pretrial proceedings in the Rhode Island criminal case process include:
Your arraignment is when a judge formally reads you what you’re being charged with. During the arraignment process in Rhode Island, you’ll also plead one of three ways: ‘not guilty,’ ‘guilty,’ or ‘nolo contendere,’ which is also called ‘no contest.’
If you plead guilty at your arraignment, you’ll most likely be sentenced at that moment. You waive all your constitutional rights to the legal process, meaning you’ll have no trial or jury.
Pleading not guilty will lead to pretrial motions and hearings, and eventually your trial if the case isn’t dismissed along the way.
And pleading no contest typically happens when you’ve struck a deal with the prosecution or a similar arrangement. Unlike pleading guilty, opting for ‘nolo contendere’ doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be convicted—you may be sentenced in other less severe ways.
Pretrial motions and hearings allow you and your lawyer a bit of control over how your trial will go. During this period, your attorney files motions to get hearings scheduled. At these hearings, the goal is to suppress certain pieces of evidence that weren’t obtained lawfully.
This includes both physical evidence and witness testimonies or depositions. You may also file motions to get specific charges dismissed. The more you can get dismissed and/or suppressed, the harder it is for the prosecution to prove your guilt.
Before the trial, both you and the prosecution are granted a discovery period. This isn’t just a time to gather additional evidence and testimony, though. Both sides are also required to exchange information related to the case, such as:
And as the defendant, you may be required to appear in a lineup, provide hair/blood samples, get fingerprinted, or share handwriting samples.
The overall trial process in Rhode Island typically follows these steps:
Before your trial really begins, some preparation has to take place. This includes the jury selection, which happens in two parts. First, a large pool or potential jurors will arrive at court the morning of your trial. The court summons them and handles the entire process.
Next, the group is narrowed down using specific criteria with the goal of creating a completely fair and impartial jury. Any jurors found to be biased or unable to perform their duties will be dismissed.
At the start of your trial, both your lawyer and the prosecution are allowed to give an opening statement. The goal is to outline the upcoming evidence for the jurors.
As the defendant, sometimes it’s smarter not to make an opening statement or to time it properly. The defense’s opening statement can come after the prosecution’s, or after the prosecution presents all their evidence.
Both sides will then introduce evidence and witnesses, with the prosecution going first. You aren’t required to testify or introduce evidence as the defendant, since the burden of proof rests squarely on the prosecutor’s shoulders.
Either side may cross-examine witnesses and/or supply non-testimonial evidence during the trial. The purpose of cross-examination is to demonstrate or discover any issues with a witness’s memory, truthfulness, and accuracy.
During witness testimony, some courts even permit re-cross-examination, during which each party gets multiple opportunities to further question witnesses. Every court and case is different.
Once all evidence has been presented from both sides, closing arguments begin. Both sides recap and comment on everything presented during the trial. The goal is to help jurors better remember, understand, and analyze the evidence. Each side will also briefly explain why the jury should return a verdict in their favor.
The jurors are then reminded of their oaths, the roles of each party in the trial, various legal definitions, the presumption of innocence, and that the burden of proof rests with the government.
During deliberation, the jury privately talk amongst themselves to share their views and thoughts on the case. Their verdict must be unanimous, whether they find you guilty or not guilty. Otherwise, a mistrial may be declared and you may be retried or have your case dismissed.
If the jurors return a verdict of “not guilty,” you can move on with your life. If they find you guilty, you’ll proceed to sentencing.
During sentencing, the judge has to follow specific guidelines as mandated by law while also considering the unique circumstances of your case.
You also have the right to appeal your sentence by filing a notice of appeal. But you must do so within 10 days of the date your judgment is officially entered into the court record.
The Rhode Island criminal case process requires that, if you’re found guilty, your punishment fits the crime. Judges and courts consider several different guidelines and details specific to your case before deciding on the sentence.
The factors considered during sentencing in Rhode Island include:
Rhode Island law allows for several alternative sentencing options that may apply to your case. Especially if you’re a first-time offender, it’s possible to avoid the harshest penalties such as jail time.
If you’re put on probation (as an alternative to prison), you’ll be supervised by a probation and parole officer. You’ll be required to comply with certain rules and regulations imposed by the judge. If you violate them, you may go back to court or may be sentenced to prison time.
You may also receive a “split sentence” or a “suspended sentence.” A split sentence means you’re given a shorter period of jail time and go on probation once you’re out. A suspended sentence means that you only go to prison if you fail to meet the conditions of your probation.
Just because you’ve been sentenced doesn’t mean you’re out of options. You can always file an appeal or pursue post-conviction relief.
Rhode Island criminal appeals don’t mean you go through a whole new trial. Instead, a higher court reviews the details of your trial. Then, they determine if the law was followed correctly and if any of your rights were violated. They may decide to vacate your conviction entirely, depending on what they find.
But there are other post-conviction relief options, too. These allow you to change or remove criminal convictions from your record. Not everyone qualifies, so it’s crucial to consult with a Rhode Island criminal defense attorney who can explain your options and help you submit the application.
In Rhode Island, you have several options for navigating through your criminal case.
You can work with a public defender, but only if you don’t have the means to hire a private attorney. You’ll be required to sign an affidavit and undergo an intake interview before you can go this route.
Working with an expert Rhode Island criminal defense lawyer like S. Joshua Macktaz means you’ll understand every option available to you and you’ll have an aggressive advocate throughout the entire process.
In Rhode Island, a civil case typically refers to disputes between organizations or individuals, while a criminal case involves violating a criminal law. No one is arrested as part of a civil case proceeding, unlike the criminal case process.
Another important difference is that you don’t go to jail for losing a civil case. A criminal case, by comparison, could result in you serving jail time if you’re found guilty.
In Rhode Island, the criminal case process typically takes anywhere between a few months and around a year.
It all depends on the severity and details of your alleged crime. While simpler cases like first-time DUIs can often be settled in 45 to 60 days, more serious or complicated offenses can take longer to process.
Arrest: Being taken into custody by law enforcement officials based on the suspicion that you’ve committed a crime.
Arraignment: The court appearance where you, the defendant, are formally read the charges against you and where you enter your initial plea.
Discovery: The period before a trial when both sides gather and exchange evidence related to the case.
Pre-trial motions: Motions filed to suppress certain pieces of evidence or dismiss specific charges. Can lead to full dismissal of your case without needing a trial.
Dismissal: When either the prosecution or the judge decide to terminate the case against you without imposing any guilt, liability, or penalties against you.
Plea agreement: A deal you accept in order to avoid trial and hypothetically incur a lesser penalty than the worst possible outcome of your trial.
Trial: The structured legal process in which evidence is presented, usually to a jury, but sometimes to just a judge. Both you and the prosecution present your sides, including evidence and rebuttal.
Sentencing: The process during which the penalties and consequences of your offenses are decided, based on the severity of the charges and other factors as dictated by law.
Appeal: Filing a notice that you’re appealing, or requesting a second look at, the verdict on your case and wanting a higher court to review the details for errors or violations of your rights.
Learn more about the Rhode Island criminal case process from any of these resources: