What Are the Penalties for Felonies in Rhode Island?
Generally, criminal offenses in Rhode Island are classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are defined as crimes punishable by incarceration for no more than one year. In contrast, felonies are penalized by imprisonment for more than one year. That said, Rhode Island also classifies offenses as petty misdemeanors (which carry no more than 6 months of incarceration) and violations (which carry a fine of no more than $500). Further, felonies can be categorized as either non-capital, meaning the term of imprisonment does not exceed 50 years, and capital, where a person can be imprisoned for up to life.
For the interest of this blog, we will focus the discussion specifically on the penalties for felonies in general. As noted above, felonies carry a prison term of more than 1 year. The actual sentence that can be imposed varies for each case. Typically, the various statutes in the Rhode Island General Laws concerning felonies specify the penalties that can be set for a particular offense. As you might expect, the more serious crime, the greater the punishments.
Let's look at the following crimes for examples:
- Felony assault (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-5-2): The penalties for this offense depend on the way it was committed or the result upon the alleged victim. If the alleged offender committed assault or battery with a dangerous weapon or substance or by fire, they could face up to 6 years of imprisonment. If the victim suffered serious bodily injury, the alleged offender could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.
- Burglary (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-8-1): This offense involves unlawfully entering or remaining in a structure with the intent to commit a crime. It is punishable by 5 years to life.
- Using counterfeit notes or bills (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-17-3): If someone passes off money knowing that it is forged or counterfeit, they could face a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years.
- Murder (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-23-2): Murder is committed when someone unlawfully takes the life of another. If charged first-degree, it is penalized by life imprisonment. If charged as second-degree, it is penalized by 10 years to life imprisonment.
- Manslaughter (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-23-3): Intentionally or negligently taking someone's life is punishable by up to 30 years of imprisonment.
- Kidnapping (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-26-1): If a person transports or confines someone against their will, they could be facing up to 20 years of imprisonment.
- Robbery (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-39-1): Robbery involves forcibly taking property from another. If the alleged offender used a dangerous weapon or the victim was injured, the prison term is 10 years to life. If force or threat was used to complete the offense, the prison term is 5 to 30 years.
The terms of imprisonment listed above show the range of penalties for specific crimes. The amount of time a person gets for a felony conviction will depend on their circumstances. During a sentencing hearing, the judge may consider aggravating and mitigating factors when deciding what punishments to impose.
They may look at:
- The defendant's background and criminal history,
- The nature of the offense, and
- The quality of evidence presented at trial.
Depending on their findings during the hearing, the judge might impose more severe or lenient sentences.
In certain circumstances, the judge must also impose additional terms of imprisonment. For instance, if the defendant is designated a habitual criminal, they can have up to 25 years added to their sentence. Under R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19-21, a habitual criminal is defined as a person who, on separate occasions, was previously convicted of two or more felonies and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
Also, if the judge or jury finds that the defendant was motivated by bias when they committed the offense, under Rhode Island's Hate Crimes Sentencing Act (R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19-38), they could be subject to an additional term between 1 and 5 years. However, the hate crimes sentence cannot be more than double that for the primary offense.
Other Consequences of a Felony Conviction
A term of imprisonment might not be the only sanction imposed upon someone convicted of a felony. A fine may also be assessed. The judge can also order the defendant to pay victim restitution (R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-28-5.1). If the defendant fails to make financial payment to the victim, legal action could be taken against them.
Additionally, the defendant may face collateral consequences, such as:
- The loss of firearm rights (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-5),
- The loss of voting rights (note that these rights are restored after the individual completes their prison term),
- The inability to obtain gainful employment or a professional license, and/or
- The disqualification from government benefits.
In short, a felony conviction can have lasting implications, as its effects can follow a person for the rest of their life.
How Long a Felony Stays on a Criminal Record
Felonies stay on a criminal record for life. However, in some situations, it might be possible to have the information sealed through a process called expungement.
Essentially, expungement clears the conviction information from a person's record, relieving them from "all penalties and disabilities resulting from the crime" (R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-1.3-4). Thus, on an application for employment, a professional license, or other situations where someone is asked about their criminal history, they can legally say that they were never convicted.
In Rhode Island, a person can seek an expungement for a felony only if they are a first-time offender and were not convicted of a crime of violence (for example, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery, or sexual assault). Additionally, they cannot have any pending criminal action against them and must have paid all court-ordered fines, costs, and fees.
Expungement for a felony can be sought 10 years after the individual completed their sentence.
Consult with a Criminal Defense Attorney
The penalties and associated consequences of a felony are serious. However, it may be possible to seek to avoid or minimize sanctions by aggressively fighting the charge.
If you have been accused of a felony in Rhode Island, it is imperative that you reach out to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Building a compelling strategy for your unique situation takes time and thorough preparation.
Schedule a free consultation by contacting the firm at (401) 312-4385 today.