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Rhode Island Criminal Law: An Overview

Being charged with a crime can be especially stressful if you're unaware of the penalties you may face and your rights as a criminal. While you can help yourself by hiring a criminal defense attorney to represent your case, you can help your case even more if you learn about Rhode Island's criminal laws.

Use LawInfo's criminal law articles to help educate yourself about Rhode Island's laws and how they affect your case. You can learn about the difference between misdemeanors and felonies, intoxicated driving charges and many other state-specific criminal law topics. You can also use LawInfo to connect with a Rhode Island criminal law attorney in Providence, Warwick, Cranston or elsewhere in the state.

Crime Classifications in Rhode Island

Every state has its own system of classifying crimes which also identifies the statutory punishments for each classification. Rhode Island has three main criminal offense classifications, in order of seriousness: felonies, misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors.

Almost every offense carries its own statutory penalties. The least serious, noncriminal offenses are classified as violations, which are sentenced to only a fine of up to $500. Criminal offenses may be sentenced to fines and/or imprisonment time. The penalty ranges for criminal offenses include:

  • Felonies—More than one year of imprisonment and more than $1,000 in fines.
  • Misdemeanors—Up to one year of imprisonment and up to $1,000 in fines.
  • Petty Misdemeanors—Up to six months of imprisonment and up to $500 in fines.

While Rhode Island doesn't break up its felonies and misdemeanors into different classes or degrees like many states do, some offenses such as murder have different classifications to cover its range of severity. These different classes of the same offense are also sentenced with penalties of various degrees of severity.

Rhode Island Marijuana Crimes

Even though the medical use of marijuana has been legalized in Rhode Island, recreational possession, use and sale are still prohibited by law as marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. If you don't hold a medical marijuana license or a physician's approval to use marijuana to treat a qualified condition, the penalty for possessing:

  • One ounce or less of marijuana is a $150 civil penalty.
  • Between one ounce and one kilogram of marijuana is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500 and up to one year of imprisonment.
  • More than one kilogram of marijuana is a felony with a fine of up to $500,000 and a mandatory 10-year imprisonment sentence.

Penalties increase exponentially if you intend to sell marijuana without a license. You can also receive a driving under the influence charge if you're impaired by marijuana while operating a vehicle, regardless of whether you have permission for medical use.

Murder vs. Manslaughter in Rhode Island

Not every homicide case is penalized similarly in Rhode Island because its criminal laws recognize that the circumstances of a victim's death can suggest if there was malicious aforethought to the killing. Malice aforethought is the defining difference between murder (the most severely punished homicide) and manslaughter (which is less severely punished). It is the criminal premeditation of a murder.

When a criminal planned to kill their victim or if they killed the victim while committing another felony such as kidnapping or robbery, the offense is classified as murder. If the criminal didn't plan to kill their victim and the death was a result of the criminal's negligence, recklessness or extreme emotional reaction, the offense may be classified as manslaughter.

Manslaughter offenses are penalized with up to 30 years of imprisonment while murder offenses may receive up to life imprisonment.

Speak to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified criminal defense lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local criminal defense attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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