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Tom's Take is intended to act as a roadmap to what you can expect after you have had your initial encounter with the police. The Rhode Island adult criminal justice system is primarily made up of two courts. There is the district court and the superior court. Each court has different functions and is limited by jurisdiction as to what type of criminal case they can hear.
Rhode Island district court is where all misdemeanors are heard. The Rhode Island district court has jurisdiction over such crimes as driving under the influence (DUI), disorderly conduct, and assault because these crimes are punishable by up to one year in prison.
STEP 1: INITIAL ARREST AND PROCESSING
Once you are arrested by law enforcement, you will be brought to the police station. Here, you will be processed. When you are processed, a law enforcement officer will collect your demographic information, photographs, and fingerprints. While at the station, you will be afforded the right to contact and consult an attorney.
Not every attorney will be able to help you navigate the complicated Rhode Island criminal justice system; you need someone who works in the system every day. Do not waste precious time consulting with just any lawyer as your reputation and liberty are immediately at risk.
You can and should contact a Rhode Island criminal defense lawyer immediately.
STEP 2: ARRAIGNMENT
Arraignment is usually the second step in the criminal justice process after an arrest. At arraignment, a person accused of a crime will be brought before a judge in the district court, where a plea of "not guilty" is typically entered. After the plea is accepted by the judge, bail will most likely be set and the defendant will be given a pre-trial conference date.
STEP 3: PRE-TRIAL CONFERENCE
A pre-trial conference is a meeting where the defendant and their attorney will meet with whichever state agency, city, or town is accusing the defendant of a crime. Here, the defendant's attorney will receive what law enforcement believes to be the evidence against you. Usually, this consists of the police report and accompanying witness statements. Once provided with this information, the defendant and lawyer will meet to review and prepare a defense.
STEP 4: TRIAL
If, after several meetings, the attorney is unable to reach a favorable resolution in the case, it may be time to set the matter down for trial. A trial is where the state, city, or town accusing the defendant of a crime presents its evidence to the judge. After the state, city, or town has finished presenting evidence to the judge, it will be the lawyer's turn to present witnesses - or do nothing if they believe the prosecutor has not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. When both sides have rested, the judge will deliver the verdict. If found "guilty," the sentence will be pronounced and the defendant will have the opportunity to appeal.
STEP 5: APPEAL
When a person is found guilty after trial in district court, they can appeal to superior court for a brand new proceeding. Once appealed, the prosecuting authority becomes the Attorney General's office. The case travels to superior court where it is assigned a new case number. Once appealed to superior court, the case starts over as if the first trial never happened. This is called a de novo appeal.
Rhode Island superior court is where all non-capital felony and capital felony cases are heard. The Rhode Island superior court has jurisdiction over such crimes as drug possession, breaking and entering (B&E), and first-degree robbery because these offenses are punishable by more than one year and up to life in prison.
If, when arrested, you are charged with a felony, you will be brought before a district court judge where you will plea "not guilty" and the judge will set bail. After this, the State of Rhode Island, through the Attorney General's office, will have up to six months to decide whether enough probable cause exists to charge you with a felony in superior court.
While this process is happening, if granted personal recognizance or surety bail, you will remain on bail awaiting a decision. If the Attorney General's office believes there is enough probable cause to charge you with a felony, you will receive notice at the address you last provided to the court.
STEP 1: ARRAIGNMENT
Once the defendant is formally charged by the Attorney general's office, he or she will receive notice in the mail detailing where to appear for arraignment. Included in the notice will be the date and time of the arraignment, as well as which court to appear in. At the arraignment, the defendant can enter a formal plea of "not guilty" and be assigned a pre-trial date.
STEP 2: PRE-TRIAL CONFERENCE
In superior court, the pre-trial conference is the stage in the proceedings where the defense lawyer meets attorney general assigned to the case and receives what they claim to be the evidence against the defendant. The materials received from the prosecutor are called the information package.
After receiving the information package, a meeting is scheduled between defendant and attorney to review the evidence. Some cases can be resolved quickly while others may take several pre-trials to come to an acceptable resolution. If, after several pre-trials, no resolution can be achieved, the case will go to trial.
STEP 3: TRIAL
A trial in the superior court is where the Attorney General's office will present evidence to a judge or jury. In Rhode Island, a person charged with a non-capital or capital felony can choose to have a trial with either a jury or in front of a judge without a jury.
If there is no jury, the judge will hear the evidence against the defendant and then render a verdict after both sides have rested. If the defendant decides to try the case in front of a jury, when both sides have rested, the jury will render the verdict. After the verdict is delivered, the judge will reassign the matter for sentencing.
STEP 4: SENTENCING
Sentencing in Rhode Island occurs after a trial has concluded. A not-guilty verdict discharges the accused of all conditions of bail. If the defendant is being held at the prison, he or she will be immediately released.
Should a verdict of guilty be given, the defense attorney can argue for release on bail. Should bail be granted, the same conditions as pre-trial bail may be imposed or new conditions added. While a person is pending sentencing, a pre-sentence report will be ordered by the judge and conducted by probation.
A pre-sentence report is a report the judge reviews prior to sentencing to gain insight into the background of the person about to be sentenced. At the time the judge renders sentence, the report will be taken into consideration.