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Rhode Island Crimes: Laws & Penalties

Rhode Island Crimes: Laws & Penalties

Overview of Crime in Rhode Island

While it‘s one of the smallest states, Rhode Island still sees its fair share of criminal activity. In 2019, there were:

  • 25 murders
  • 491 rapes
  • 418 robberies
  • 2,321 burglaries

That said, Rhode Island actually has some of the lowest crime rates in the country. Violent crime held steady at 2.0 incidents per 1,000 people in 2022, the 4th lowest nationwide. And property crime, at 13.1 incidents per 1,000 residents, ranks 5th lowest in the US. Some of the safest cities in RI include East Greenwich, Barrington, and Jamestown. Meanwhile, bigger cities like Providence and Pawtucket tend to have higher crime rates.

Types of Crimes in Rhode Island

Alright, now that we’ve got the lay of the land, let’s break down the different types of crimes you might encounter in Rhode Island. Broadly speaking, offenses are classified as either misdemeanors or felonies.


Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, typically punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of $1,000 or less. Some common examples include:

  • Simple assault
  • Shoplifting
  • Trespassing
  • Disorderly conduct
  • First offense DUI

If the potential punishment is 6 months or less in jail, it’s considered a “petty misdemeanor.” These carry a max fine of $500.


On the flip side, felonies are more serious offenses that can land you in prison for more than a year and/or stick you with a fine over $1,000. A few examples of felony crimes are:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Burglary

Felonies are further categorized as either non-capital (punishable by up to 50 years) or capital (life in prison). The specific sentence depends on the details of the crime and is laid out in RI’s criminal statutes.

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
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Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
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Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
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Bee L
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divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.

Penalties for Specific Crimes

Speaking of sentences, let‘s take a closer look at the potential penalties for some of Rhode Island’s most common crimes. Keep in mind, the actual punishment imposed can vary based on the case specifics and the defendant‘s criminal history.


In Rhode Island, assault crimes range from simple assault (a misdemeanor) all the way up to felony assault with a dangerous weapon. Here‘s how the penalties break down:

  • Simple assault: Up to 1 year in jail, $1,000 fine
  • Felony assault: Up to 20 years if the victim suffers serious bodily injury; up to 6 years if a dangerous weapon is used

Domestic assault crimes often carry enhanced penalties, especially for repeat offenses. Same goes for hate crimes, which can tack on an extra 1-5 years. 

Theft Crimes

Theft offenses like shoplifting, receiving stolen goods, and larceny are penalized based on the value of the property stolen:

  • Under $1,500: Misdemeanor, up to 1 year in jail
  • Over $1,500: Felony, up to 10 years in prison

Robbery (theft by force or threat) is always a felony, even if the amount is small. Penalties range from 5 years to life depending on whether a weapon was used. For repeat shoplifters, a 2nd offense bumps it up to a felony punishable by up to 5 years. And if you steal from a victim over 65, anything over $500 is a felony.

Drug Crimes

Drug offenses are some of the most common crimes prosecuted in Rhode Island. Penalties vary based on the type of drug, the amount, and whether you were caught with it (possession) or trying to sell it (distribution).Some example sentences:

  • Marijuana possession (under 1 oz): Civil violation, $150 fine
  • Cocaine possession: Up to 3 years in prison, $5,000 fine
  • Heroin possession: Up to 3 years in prison, $5,000 fine
  • Selling cocaine/heroin: Up to life in prison, $500,000 fine

Penalties are stiffer if you‘re caught selling drugs near a school. And if someone dies from drugs you provided, you could face life in prison.


Driving under the influence (DUI) is a misdemeanor for a first offense in RI. But the penalties get progressively harsher with each subsequent conviction:

  • 1st offense: Up to 1 year in jail, $100-$400 fine, license suspended 3-18 months
  • 2nd offense (within 5 years): Up to 1 year in jail, $400 fine, license suspended 1-2 years
  • 3rd offense: Felony, up to 3 years in prison, $400 fine, license suspended 2-3 years

You may also be required to complete substance abuse treatment and install an ignition interlock device. And if you cause serious injury or death while driving drunk, you’re looking at felony charges.

The Legal Process in Rhode Island

Okay, so what actually happens if you‘re accused of a crime in Rhode Island? Here‘s a quick rundown of how the process typically goes:

  1. Arrest: After police investigate, they may arrest you if they believe there’s probable cause you committed a crime.
  2. Arraignment: You’ll appear before a judge, hear the charges against you, and enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere). The judge may also set bail.
  3. Pretrial hearings: You and your lawyer will meet with prosecutors to discuss evidence and any plea bargains. The judge may also hear motions, like a request to suppress evidence.
  4. Trial: If your case isn’t resolved with a plea, it’ll go to trial. You have the right to a jury trial for most felonies and misdemeanors. The state must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  5. Sentencing: If convicted, the judge will impose a sentence based on state guidelines and arguments from the prosecutor and your lawyer.
  6. Appeal: After sentencing, you have the right to appeal your conviction to a higher court. An appeal isn’t a new trial, but a review of the case for legal errors.

Throughout this whole process, you have important constitutional rights, like the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, and the right to due process under the law. If you feel your rights have been violated, speak up and tell your lawyer right away.

Your Rights When Interacting With Police

Let’s talk a bit more about your rights when dealing with the police. Whether they approach you on the street, pull you over, or show up at your door, it‘s crucial to know your rights and assert them respectfully.

The Right to Remain Silent

First and foremost, you have the right to remain silent. You do NOT have to answer questions from the police, even if you‘re not under arrest. Politely decline to speak with them and ask if you’re free to go. If you‘re not, ask for a lawyer immediately.The only exception is that you must provide your name and ID if the officer reasonably suspects you’re involved in criminal activity. But you don’t have to say anything else.

The Right to Refuse Searches

You also have the right to refuse a search of your person, your car, or your home. If police ask to search you, calmly say “I do not consent to searches.” They may still pat you down if they suspect you have a weapon. But they can’t search further without probable cause or a warrant. There are a few exceptions, like if you‘re on probation or they can see contraband in plain view. But in general, make it clear you don’t agree to searches. This protects your rights down the line.

The Right to an Attorney

If you’re arrested, you have the right to an attorney. Don’t try to explain your side of the story or answer questions alone. Insist on having a lawyer present for any interrogation. Your lawyer’s there to protect your rights and ensure you’re treated fairly. If you can’t afford an attorney, the court will appoint a public defender for you. Don‘t be afraid to use this service – public defenders are skilled lawyers who fight hard for their clients.

Filing Complaints for Police Misconduct

If you believe an officer violated your rights through excessive force, an illegal search, false arrest, or other misconduct, you can file a complaint with their department‘s internal affairs division. You can also reach out to organizations like the ACLU or NAACP for help. Holding police accountable when they cross the line is important for protecting everyone’s rights. But the process can be slow and difficult, so be patient and persistent.

Practical Tips for Navigating the Justice System

Alright, we‘ve covered a lot of heavy legal stuff. Let‘s wrap up with some practical tips for dealing with Rhode Island‘s criminal justice system:

  1. Stay calm and be polite. Losing your cool with the police or in court will only make things worse. Take a deep breath and remember your rights.
  2. Don’t talk to police alone. As we discussed, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Use them! Let your lawyer do the talking for you.
  3. Be honest with your attorney. Your lawyer can’t help you if they don’t know the full story. Be upfront about what happened, even if it’s embarrassing or incriminating. Everything you tell them is confidential.
  4. Show up for court dates. Missing a court appearance is a crime in itself.6 Make sure you know when and where you need to be, and get there early. If something comes up, tell your lawyer ASAP.
  5. Dress appropriately for court. First impressions matter. Wear clean, conservative clothing (think job interview style). Avoid t-shirts, ripped jeans, hats, or anything with slogans.
  6. Don’t discuss your case with others. It may be tempting to vent to friends and family. But anything you say could potentially be used against you. Play it safe and keep the details between you and your lawyer.
  7. Consider a plea bargain. The vast majority of criminal cases end in plea deals, not trials.6 If the prosecutor offers a plea bargain, talk it over carefully with your attorney to see if it’s a good option for you.
  8. Have a strong support system. Dealing with criminal charges is incredibly stressful. Lean on trusted friends and family for emotional support. Consider seeing a therapist to process your feelings. And look into community organizations that help folks caught up in the system.
  9. Plan for the future. A criminal record can make it harder to get a job, housing, or education.1 Start planning now for how you’ll move forward after your case is over. Can you get your record sealed or expunged? Are there training programs or support groups that can help? Thinking ahead can make a huge difference.
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