Insight from Rhode Island Criminal Defense Lawyers

At Abilheira Law, LLC, our goal is to provide you with the information you need to understand your criminal charges and the criminal process. Knowing how your case will be handled from start to finish can offer you some peace of mind about what to expect as your case progresses. After an arrest, the procedures for handling the criminal process will vary, depending on whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony-level charges. In Rhode Island, our criminal justice system is divided into two courts. There is the district court, where misdemeanor cases are heard, and superior court, where the felony cases are heard.

Understanding the Criminal Process

Across the board, court procedures operate similarly. There are fundamental elements that each procedure will share. We break down each component give you a better understanding of all of the procedures involved. You can also better anticipate what the road ahead might look like if you are currently facing charges.

This is the order in which the court procedures will take place:

1. Processing and arrest
An officer suspects you of committing a crime and arrests you. Police will then bring you to the police department, book you and process the arrest by obtaining your information, fingerprints, and photos. Depending on your charge, you could be placed in custody and require bail.

2. Arraignment
This will be your first appearance in court, where a judge will formally charge you of the crime alleged. You will then enter your plea of not guilty, guilty, nolo contendere (no contest), or an Alfred plea. Most of the time, criminal lawyers encourage defendants to plead not guilty.

3. Pre-trial proceedings
Your criminal defense lawyer will file for “discovery,” which includes all the evidence the prosecution has in your case. You will then have the opportunity to discuss a strategy for defense with your attorney. Finally, you and your criminal defense attorney will meet with the prosecutor and attempt to work out a plea agreement. In the event that your defense attorney and the prosecutor cannot come to an agreement on a plea bargain, your case will be set down for trial.

4. Trial
You have the right to a trial if your case if it cannot be dismissed or if both sides cannot compromise on a plea agreement. In District Court, a trial is held in front of a judge only. In Superior Court, your case is presented before a jury. During trial, the prosecution has the burden of proof, which means that they must convince the judge or jury that you are guilty of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Your attorney will have the opportunity to make an opening statement, cross examine witnesses, present witnesses in your defense, and then make a closing argument. At the end of the case, the judge or jury will then decide if the prosecution has met their burden of proof.

5. Verdict and sentencing
At the end of a trial, the judge or jury will render their verdict. A not guilty verdict means that you have been exonerated of all the allegations, and the charges are dropped. However, if you are found guilty, a sentence will be issued and, depending on the case, and you will be required to pay a fine, be issued probation, or sent to serve your jail or prison sentence.

6. Appeal
After conviction, you may appeal your case if there are grounds to do so. At the end of a district court trial, there is an automatic appeal to the Superior Court, where you will have the opportunity to go to trial before a jury. After a Superior Court jury trial, you may appeal your case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Understanding District Court Cases

In Rhode Island, there are four district courts where misdemeanor cases are tried, such as DUI. These are Newport County, Providence/Bristol County, Washington County, and Kent County. You would appear in any one of these courts, depending on the location where you were arrested.

Examples of misdemeanors in Rhode Island include:

  • Simple assault and battery
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Shoplifting
  • Marijuana possession
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)

Misdemeanor cases carry a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Felony Charges in Superior Court

Felonies are considered more serious than misdemeanors. Felonies carry harsher penalties than misdemeanors: fines of over $1,000 and a minimum of 1 year in prison to life in prison.

These are examples of felony crimes:

  • Arson
  • Sex crimes
  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Kidnapping
  • Drug crimes
  • White collar crimes
  • Probation violations

Protect Your Future Today

No matter what type of crime you may be facing, it is imperative that you obtain counsel from a quality Rhode Island defense lawyer. The legal team at Abilheira Law, LLC is comprised of committed and dedicated criminal defense attorneys, who have a firm grasp of the law in and out of the courtroom. We have helped countless clients fight their charges, whether or not their case goes to trial. We are dedicated solely to protecting not only your freedoms, but also your future and reputation.

Do you have more questions? Contact Abilheira Law, LLC today for a complimentary consultation and get the support and advice you need!