Rhode Island Misdemeanor Crimes and Sentences

The basics of misdemeanor penalties and sentencing in Rhode Island.

By , Legal Editor
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 10/09/2023

Like many states, Rhode Island divides crimes into misdemeanors and felonies. Less serious crimes are misdemeanors, while more serious offenses are classified as felonies. This article will review misdemeanor classifications, penalties, and sentencing options in Rhode Island.

How Rhode Island Classifies Misdemeanors

In Rhode Island, a misdemeanor is a crime that may be punished by no more than a year of imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. If the crime is punishable by no more than six months and a $500 fine, it's considered a petty misdemeanor.

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.

(R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-1-2 (2023).)

Misdemeanor and Petty Misdemeanor Penalties in Rhode Island

Below are examples of misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor offenses and their penalties.

Misdemeanor Penalties in R.I.

Examples of Rhode Island misdemeanors include:

  • petty larceny of property worth $1,500 or less: maximum one-year imprisonment and a $500 fine
  • simple assault or battery: up to one year of incarceration and a $1,000 fine
  • hazing: minimum 30 days and maximum one year of imprisonment and a $500 fine
  • cyberharassment: up to one year's imprisonment and a $500 fine, and
  • joyriding: up to one year of incarceration and a $1,000 fine.

Petty Misdemeanor Penalties in R.I.

Petty misdemeanors in Rhode Island include:

  • disorderly conduct: up to six months' incarceration and a $500 fine
  • impersonating a utility employee to gain entrance into a residence or business: up to six months' incarceration and a $500 fine
  • huffing or possession of a substance that releases intoxicating vapors: up to six months' incarceration and a $500 fine, and
  • trespass in school building: up to six months of incarceration and a $500 fine (minimum fines also apply).

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-5-3, 11-21-1, 11-14-6, 11-41-5, 11-44-26.1, 11-45-1, 11-48-3 (2023).)

Enhanced Penalties for Misdemeanors in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island laws for some misdemeanors require stiffer penalties when the defendant has repeat convictions, targeted a protected victim, or committed a hate crime.

Repeat Misdemeanors That Become Felonies

Several misdemeanors carry felony penalties for a second or subsequent conviction. For example, a first shoplifting offense is a misdemeanor, but repeat shoplifting offenses carry felony penalties of up to five years of incarceration. A second conviction for misdemeanor cyberharassment is punishable by up to two years of prison time. And repeat domestic violence misdemeanors impose minimum sentences and increased maximum sentences.

Protected Victims

Rhode Island also punishes several misdemeanors more harshly when the defendant targets protected victims, such as first responders or elderly victims. Simple assault crimes, for instance, increase from a misdemeanor to a felony when the defendant assaults a police officer, first responder, school teacher or staff, or delivery person. Stealing from a victim age 65 or older will also land a person a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, conviction for amounts over $500.

Hate Crimes

If a judge or jury determines a defendant committed a misdemeanor motivated by hate, the sentence must include a 30-day mandatory minimum that can't be suspended.

(R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-5-31, 11-5-5, 11-5-711-41-5, 11-41-20, 11-44-21.1, 11-52-4.2, 12-19-38, 12-29-5 (2023).)

How Misdemeanor Sentencing Works in Rhode Island

For misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor sentencing, the judge decides what punishment is appropriate within the legal limits for that crime. Judges can order incarceration or a sentencing alternative, such as:

  • 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 fines and restitution. (R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 12-19-2, 12-19-13, 12-19-32 (2023).)

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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