Rhode Island Domestic Violence Laws

Learn what's at stake when charged with domestic violence in Rhode Island.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated April 22, 2024

In Rhode Island, acts of domestic violence can result in mandatory arrests, criminal charges, protective orders, jail time, fines, and firearm restrictions.

What Is Domestic Violence in Rhode Island?

Domestic violence involves crimes committed by or against a family or household member.

The law defines family or household members to include:

  • current and former spouses
  • adults related by blood or marriage
  • persons who have a child together
  • adults living together or who have lived together in the past 3 years, and
  • persons who are or were dating or engaged in the past year.

Domestic violence crimes include (but are not limited to) assault, sexual assault, strangulation, stalking, protective order violations, trespass, and homicide.

Rhode Island laws impose harsher penalties for repeat misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. In addition, a judge must order a defendant convicted of any domestic violence crime (felony or misdemeanor) to participate in a batterer's intervention program and refrain from possessing firearms.

(R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-29-2 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Domestic Assault in Rhode Island?

One of the most common domestic violence crimes is assault. Below are Rhode Island's penalties for assault crimes, including domestic violence enhancements.

Simple Assault or Battery

Assault and battery are separate crimes in Rhode Island, but they carry the same penalties.

Assault. A person commits assault in Rhode Island by placing someone in reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm. For example, a person who raises their fist as if about to punch another has committed assault.

Battery. A person who carries through with an assault commits battery. Battery is any intentional offensive physical contact with another person. For instance, a person could be convicted of battery for pushing or shoving someone, grabbing another's buttocks, or slapping or hitting someone.

Penalties. Simple assault and battery are misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. When committed against a family or household member, a second violation carries a minimum 10-day jail sentence. A prosecutor can file felony charges for a third misdemeanor assault involving domestic violence, which increases the possible punishment to one to 10 years of prison time.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-5-3, 12-29-5 (2024).)

Felony Assault or Battery

Assault and battery offenses that result in serious bodily injuries or involve a dangerous weapon, fire, or dangerous substance are felonies. It's also a felony if a defendant assaults another with the intent of committing murder, robbery, sexual assault, or burglary.

  • Dangerous weapons generally include firearms, knives, brass knuckles, and other instruments designed to cause harm. It can also include objects that can cause harm by how they're used, such as a baseball bat or steel-toes boots.
  • Dangerous substances may include acids, caustic chemicals, or poisons.
  • Serious bodily injuries include those that create a substantial risk of death, cause permanent disfigurement, cause a protracted loss or impairment of a body part or organ, or result in loss of a pregnancy. Examples could include broken bones, lacerations requiring stitches, severe swelling, or injuries requiring surgery.

A defendant convicted of felony assault or battery resulting in serious bodily injuries will face up to 20 years in prison. The same maximum penalty applies to assault with intent to commit murder, sexual assault, robbery, or burglary. All other felony assaults or batteries carry up to 6 years of prison time.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-5-1, 11-5-2 (2024).)

Domestic Assault by Strangulation

Rhode Island makes it a 10-year felony to commit assault or battery by strangulation on a family or household member. Strangulation occurs by intentionally trying to restrict a person's normal breathing or blood circulation by applying pressure to the throat or neck or by blocking their nose or mouth. A prosecutor doesn't need to prove bodily injuries to secure a conviction—proof that the defendant intended to cause harm is sufficient.

(R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-5-2.3 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Other Domestic Violence Crimes in Rhode Island?

Domestic violence crimes aren't limited to assault and battery. Other common crimes associated with domestic violence include stalking, cyber harassment, and violation of a protective order.

Stalking Crimes

A person commits stalking by repeatedly harassing or following another with the intent of causing the targeted person to fear harm or suffer substantial emotional distress. Stalking is a felony, punishable by up to 5 years' incarceration and a $10,000 fine.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-59-1, 11-59-2 (2024).)

Cyberstalking and Cyber Harassment

Cyberstalking and cyber harassment crimes involve using electronic communications to harass someone. The prosecutor must show that the communications seriously alarmed, annoyed, or bothered a targeted person and served no legitimate purpose.

A first conviction is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $500 fine. Repeat convictions are felonies that carry up to 2 years of prison time and a $6,000 fine.

(R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-52-4.2 (2024).)

Violation of Protective Orders and No-Contact Orders

Victims of domestic abuse can go to court and ask the judge for a protective order. This order prohibits the abuser from harming or contacting the victim. Protective orders are issued in civil court.

If the defendant is facing criminal charges for domestic violence, a judge in criminal court must order a no-contact order as a condition of bail or pretrial release. Similar to a protective order, the no-contact order prohibits the defendant from contacting the victim.

Violation of a protective or no-contact order carries misdemeanor penalties of up to a year of jail time and a $1,000 fine. Repeat violations carry the penalties described below.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3, 12-29-4, 15-15-3 (2024).)

Repeat Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Offenses

Repeat misdemeanor crimes committed against a family or household member carry enhanced penalties. A second misdemeanor conviction carries a 10-day minimum jail sentence. Third and subsequent convictions can be charged as felonies and carry one to 10 years of prison time.

Examples of domestic violence misdemeanors include simple assault or battery, vandalism, disorderly conduct, trespass, protective order violations, cyberstalking, unlawful entry, and electronic tracking of motor vehicles.

(R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-29-5 (2024).)

Domestic Violence Arrest, Bail, and Firearm Provisions in Rhode Island

Rhode Island law recognizes the high risk of harm in domestic violence cases. It allows for warrantless arrests, restrictions on firearms, and bail conditions when a defendant is suspected or convicted of domestic violence.

Arrests in Domestic Violence Cases

Police officers responding to a domestic violence call may arrest the suspect even if they didn't see the alleged violence. Rhode Island has a mandatory arrest policy if there's probable cause to believe an act of domestic violence resulted in bodily harm, involved a weapon, or violated a protection order.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-5, 12-29-3, 15-15-5 (2024).)

Bail in Domestic Violence Cases

Defendants suspected of domestic violence can't be released on bail or pretrial release until they go before a judge. The judge must issue a no-contact order that prohibits the defendant from having any contact with the victim. Violating the order can result in arrest, bail forfeiture, and criminal charges.

(R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-29-4 (2024).)

Firearm Restrictions in Domestic Violence Cases

Anyone subject to a protective or no-contact order is prohibited from possessing a firearm. The judge issuing the order may direct the person to turn over any firearms in their possession within 72 hours. The firearm prohibition remains in effect for the duration of the order.

Defendants convicted of any felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor are also prohibited from possessing firearms under federal and state law. If the defendant used a firearm during the offense, it must be forfeited.

Possessing a firearm in violation of these provisions is a felony under Rhode Island law.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-5, 12-29-5 (2024); 18 U.S.C. § 922 (2024).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're facing charges for a domestic violence crime or were served with a protective order, talk to a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you understand how the legal system works, what to expect at court hearings, and what penalties may apply.

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