Rhode Island Felony Crimes and Sentences

Learn how felony sentencing works in Rhode Island.

By , Legal Editor
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 5/31/2024

In Rhode Island, felonies are any crimes that may be punished by imprisonment for more than a year and a fine of more than $1,000. Crimes with lesser potential punishments are misdemeanors in Rhode Island. Read on to learn how judges determine the sentence to impose for a felony.

How Rhode Classifies and Punishes Felony Crimes

Unlike many states, Rhode Island doesn't group felonies into different classes for purposes of sentencing. Rather, the state's criminal laws spell out the maximum sentence and sometimes a minimum sentence for each felony.

Felony Crimes and Penalties in R.I.

Here are some examples of felony penalties in Rhode Island:

  • first-degree murder: a life sentence
  • burglary: 5 years to life imprisonment
  • carjacking (no injuries): 5 to 30 years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine
  • manslaughter: maximum of 30 years' imprisonment and a $20,000 fine
  • stalking: maximum of 5 years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine, and
  • possession of a firearm by a prohibited person: 2 to 10 years' imprisonment.

Rhode Island does not have the death penalty.

When Misdemeanors Become Felonies in R.I.

Some crimes that are misdemeanors for a first offense—such as reckless driving and shoplifting—are treated as felonies in Rhode Island when the defendant already has at least one prior conviction for the same crime.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-1-2, 11-8-1, 11-23-2, 11-23-3, 11-39-2, 11-41-20, 11-47-5, 11-59-2, 31-27-4 (2024).)

How Felony Sentencing Works in Rhode Island

In general, it's up to the judge to decide on the appropriate sentence for a felony, within the legal limits for the crime involved. The legal limits are generally the maximum sentence and minimum sentence (if there is one).

Rhode Island's Sentencing Benchmarks

For some of the most common felonies, Rhode Island has sentencing guidelines—called "benchmarks"—for judges to use. The sentencing benchmarks give a range of imprisonment terms for the listed crimes. Judges shouldn't depart from the presumptive (standard) sentence in these benchmarks unless they find that substantial and compelling circumstances call for a different sentence. Those circumstances could include the defendant's background, criminal history, motivation, and feelings about the crime (such as remorse), as well as the harm to the victim.

Examples of Felony Sentencing Benchmarks in R.I.

Below are a few examples of felony crimes included in the benchmarks. The statutory penalty represents the maximum sentence, whereas the presumptive sentence provides the sentence the judge should normally order in a typical case.

Felony assault or battery: The statutory maximum penalty for felony assault or battery is 6 years if the defendant used a dangerous weapon or 20 years if the crime resulted in serious bodily injury. The presumptive sentences in the benchmarks are:

  • 12 to 18 months if the defendant used a knife or gun but the victim was injured slightly or not at all, or
  • 4 to 5 years if there was a serious injury.

First-degree sexual assault: The statutory minimum and maximum penalties for first-degree sexual assault are at least 10 years and up to life in prison. The presumptive sentences in the benchmarks are:

  • 10 to 15 years for one count with no injury, or
  • over 20 years with aggravating circumstances such as excessive violence.

Felony DUI resulting in death: The statutory penalties for a first offense are 5 to 15 years' imprisonment. The presumptive sentence is 3 to 10 years.

Check out the most recent sentencing benchmarks on the Rhode Island Superior Court website.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-5-2, 11-37-2, 11-37-3, 12-19.3-2, 12-19.3-3, 31-27-2.2 (2024).)

Alternatives to Incarceration for Felonies in Rhode Island

Several felonies allow a judge to impose a fine instead of or in addition to a term in a correctional facility. Judges may also choose one or more other alternatives to incarceration as part of or instead of the legal sentence for certain crimes—typically, nonviolent first offenses. These alternatives include:

  • probation with conditions, with or without a suspended sentence
  • allowing the defendant to continue working or pursuing an education, combined with confinement in a minimum security facility during nonworking or nonstudy hours; and
  • placement in "community confinement" (often known as house arrest or home detention) with intensive supervision

Along with any other penalties, the judge may also order the defendant to pay restitution, either in the form of a monetary payment or some type of community restitution.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 12-19-2, 12-19-13, 12-19-32 (2024).)

Sentence Enhancements for Felonies in Rhode Island

Rhode Island law calls for sentence enhancements under certain conditions. Below are a few examples.

Habitual criminals. The law allows up to 25 years' incarceration in addition to the sentence for the most recent crime when the defendant had two previous felony convictions with sentences of incarceration.

Hate crimes. A defendant who commits a hate crime faces an additional term of one to five years (but no more than double the original penalty for the crime). Prosecutors can charge hate crimes when a defendant intentionally targets the victim out of animosity toward their actual or perceived disability, religion, color, race, national origin or ancestry, sexual orientation, or gender.

Gang enhancement. Anyone who commits a felony for the benefit of, or in association with, a gang will receive an additional sentence of up to 10 years' imprisonment.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 12-19-21, 12-19-38, 12-19-39 (2024).)

Getting Legal Help

A felony conviction can have long-lasting, serious consequences. Even after you've served the sentence, having a felony on your record could make it difficult to get a job, find housing, or qualify for some government benefits. If you've been arrested, charged with a crime, or approached by police and investigators, you should speak to a Rhode Island criminal defense lawyer immediately. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system, negotiate a favorable plea bargain if that's appropriate, protect your rights, and help you reach the best outcome possible under the circumstances.

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