In Rhode Island, a misdemeanor is a crime that may be punished by no more than a year of imprisonment and/or a fine of no more than $1,000. If the crime is punishable for no more than six months and/or a $500 fine, it's considered a petty misdemeanor. In contrast, felonies in Rhode Island carry a potential sentence of more than a year. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-1-2 (2020).)
Although each category of misdemeanor has maximum penalties associated with it, the laws for some individual crimes specify lower limits. A few misdemeanors carry minimum penalties as well. If you're convicted of a misdemeanor or petty misdemeanor, it's up to the judge to decide on the appropriate sentence within the legal limits for that crime.
In most states, if you're convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to a term of incarceration, you'll serve that time in county jail rather than state prison. But Rhode Island has what's known as a unified correctional system. That means that all adults sentenced to imprisonment—regardless of the crime or the length of the sentence—will serve the term in one of the state's correctional facilities. (R.I. Gen Laws § 12-19-23 (2020).)
The Rhode Island laws for some misdemeanors require stiffer penalties when the defendant had one or more previous convictions for the same crime. For example:
(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-41-20, 11-44-21.1, 31-27-4 (2020).)
Along with the option of imposing only a fine for a misdemeanor, judges in Rhode Island may choose one or more other alternatives to incarceration, including:
Along with any other penalties, the judge may also order the defendant to pay restitution. (R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 12-19-2, 12-19-13, 12-19-32 (2020).)
Here are a few examples of crimes treated as misdemeanors in Rhode Island, along with their statutory penalties:
Petty misdemeanors in Rhode Island include:
(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-2-1, 11-5-3, 11-21-1, 11-45-1, 11-41-5, 21-28-4.01 (2020).)
Even though misdemeanor charges are less serious than felonies, a conviction can still have negative consequences. It could affect your ability to land a job or rent an apartment. And if you get in trouble with the law again, a previous conviction might subject you to a stiffer sentence. So anytime you face criminal charges, it's important to speak with a local criminal defense lawyer who can protect your rights throughout the proceedings and help you get the best outcome possible under the circumstances.