Rhode Island Misdemeanor Crimes and Sentences

Learn how misdemeanor sentencing works in Rhode Island, how previous convictions affect sentences, and when you can get probation.

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).)

How Misdemeanor Sentencing Works in Rhode Island

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).)

When Previous Convictions Can Affect a Misdemeanor Sentence

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:

  • Shoplifting: The penalty for a first offense is up to a year of incarceration and/or a fine of $50 or twice the full retail value of the stolen merchandise, whichever is greater, but no more than $500; a second or subsequent offense is treated as a felony, punishable by up to five years of incarceration and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
  • Graffiti: The maximum penalty for a first or second offense is a 1,000 fine, plus 200 hours of community service; a third offense is treated as a felony, punishable by up to two years of imprisonment, a $2,000 fine, and 300 hours of community service.
  • Reckless driving: A first offense is a misdemeanor (with the standard penalties), while a second or subsequent offense is punished as a felony.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-41-20, 11-44-21.1, 31-27-4 (2020).)

Probation and Other Sentencing Alternatives to Incarceration in Rhode Island

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:

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

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).)

Examples of Misdemeanors and Petty Misdemeanors in Rhode Island

Here are a few examples of crimes treated as misdemeanors in Rhode Island, along with their statutory penalties:

  • Theft (known as “larceny” in Rhode Island) of property worth $1,500 or less: maximum one year imprisonment and/or $500 fine.
  • Simple assault or battery: up to one year and/or $1,000.
  • Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana for personal use: up to one year and/or a $2-$500 fine.
  • Hazing: minimum 30 days and maximum one year of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $500.

Petty misdemeanors in Rhode Island include:

  • Abandonment or nonsupport of spouse or children: up to six months of imprisonment.
  • Disorderly conduct: up to six months and/or $500.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-2-1, 11-5-3, 11-21-1, 11-45-1, 11-41-5, 21-28-4.01 (2020).)

Getting Legal Help With Misdemeanor Charges

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.

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