handcuffsDomestic violence crimes are some of the most commonly charges criminal offenses in Rhode Island. Understanding the nature of these charges and the process once charges are filed, will help you navigate the minefield awaiting in Rhode Island courts.  Today’s blog explains the ins and outs of domestic violence crimes in Rhode Island.

What is a “Domestic Violence Crime”?

Crimes of domestic violence in Rhode Island include:

What Makes a Crime “Domestic”?

To be considered a crime of “domestic violence” in Rhode Island, according to § 12-29-2(b), the parties must share a relationship that meets any of the following:

  • Current spousal relationship
  • Former spousal relationship
  • Substantial dating or engagement relationship within the past six (6) months
  • Persons who have a child in common
  • Relatives by blood or marriage
  • Persons living together or that have lived together within the past three (3) years

When Can Police Charge Someone With Domestic Violence?

Generally speaking, in order to arrest someone and charge them with a crime, police must have an arrest warrant or actual observation of the crime being committed before s/he can make an arrest. However, in domestic violence cases, the general rule is different—police may make an arrest without either a warrant or personal observation within twenty-four (24) hours of the crime allegedly occurring; however, they must then obtain an arrest warrant before that twenty-four (24) hour period expires. Police officers must arrest a suspect of domestic violence anytime they have probable cause, or “reasonable belief,” to believe that a crime of domestic violence in Rhode Island has occurred.

Can two people involved in the same incident be arrested and charged with domestic violence?

When a police officer has probable cause to believe that two individuals have assaulted each other, the officer is not required to arrest both persons. The officer should make a determination of who they believe was the primary physical aggressor.

However, oftentimes, police officers will arrest two individuals involved in the same domestic violence incident.  This presents unique challenges once the case makes it way into court, because both individuals are now “victims” and “defendants.”  Therefore, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination will come into play. In these cases, the defendant would incriminate themselves if they testified as a “victim” in the other person’s case. As such, both cases are usually dismissed if there is no other independent witness or evidence.

What happens after a domestic violence arrest?

If arrested for a domestic violence crime, you will have to attend court. Your first court date is called an arraignment. At the arraignment, you will be formally charged with a crime.  The prosecutor (in Rhode Island this is usually a representative from the arresting police department and not an actual lawyer) will read the charges and a brief statement of the “facts” to support the charges.

The judge will ask you to give your name, address and date of birth.  

Next, the judge will ask you how you wish to plead.  In Rhode Island, you may enter a guilty or nolo contedere plea to a misdemeanor domestic violence crime at an arraignment, but not to a felony. If you enter a guilty or nolo contendere plea, the case is over and the judge will sentence you right then and there.  If you enter a not guilty plea, the arraignment will proceed as follows:

  • You will be released on bail.  
  • In all domestic violence cases, a no-contact order will be issued between the defendant and the complaining witness.  
  • You will then be referred to the Public Defender’s Office if you do not already have a private attorney or the means to hire a private attorney. 
  • Finally, you will be given another court date to come back to start the pre-trial phase of the case.

What happens if the complaining witness does not want to “press charges”?

One common misconception about domestic violence cases is the proposition that if someone does not want to press charges that the case will be dismissed.  This is a common misconception, because it is not the “victim” pressing the charges, instead it is the City/Town or State responsible for pursuing the charges.  The prosecution can still decide to move forward without the complaining witness.

Is the complaining witness required to go to court?

The “complaining witness” sometimes referred to as the “victim” is not required to go to court unless and until they are subpoenaed to be there.  This will not happen at the arraignment and usually will not happen until the second or third pre-trial conference, sometimes not even until trial.

What happens if the complaining witness does not go to court after they are subpoenaed?

Often times, a prosecutor will simply have no choice but to dismiss a domestic violence case in Rhode Island if the victim/complaining witness fails to appear.  That is because usually in domestic violence cases, there are only two witnesses: the victim and the defendant. Obviously, the defendant is not going to testify against themselves in this scenario, which leaves the only other witnesses unavailable.  

However, in some cases there may be other evidence that can be admitted through police officers and other witnesses, and in those cases the prosecutor may move forward with the prosecution even without the complaining witness.

What are the penalties for domestic violence crimes in Rhode Island?

Should you plead nolo contendere or should the court find you guilty of a domestic violence crime, you could face the following penalties:

  • Possible jail time
  • Probation
  • Fines, fees, and/or contributions to the Victim’s Fund
  • No contact orders
  • Batterer’s intervention program
  • Mental health counseling
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Anger management counseling
  • Community Service
  • Loss of gun rights

Are there immigration consequences to domestic violence cases in Rhode Island?

Yes, if you are convicted of a domestic violence crime in Rhode Island and you are not a United States Citizen, you could face deportation, denial of naturalization, exclusion from admission or readmission into the United States, and denial of visas.

It is important you contact an experienced Rhode Island domestic violence attorney that has the knowledge and ability to advocate for you and fight to protect your rights.

Contact the skilled Rhode Island domestic violence attorneys at Abilheira Law today for a free, confidential consultation: call us now 401-245-5100 or fill out our online form.