The police have charged you with a Rhode Island misdemeanor. Typical misdemeanors might be simple assault and battery, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), disorderly conduct, vandalism, domestic assault, shoplifting, and most crimes that carry a maximum sentence of no more than one year at the ACI. You were handcuffed, locked into the backseat of a police car, transported to the police station, had your photograph and fingerprints taken, maybe spent an uncomfortable night in jail, and sent away with a date to appear in court.
What happens next?
In Rhode Island, misdemeanors are adjudicated in one of four district courts. Which district court you go to depends on what police department charged you with a crime. For example, if you were arrested by Cranston Police, you would go to Kent County District Court in Warwick but if you were arrested by the Bristol Police, you would go to the Providence County District Court in Providence.
Your first appearance in district court will be for an arraignment. At your arraignment, the judge will tell you the specific charges brought against you and offer you an opportunity to plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” If you plead “not guilty,” the judge will set bail and send you on your way with a date to return to court for a pretrial conference. If you go to your arraignment without a criminal defense attorney, do NOT plead guilty.
Bail is an amount of money or some other condition imposed on you by the judge to assure your continued appearance in court and to motivate you to keep the peace and be of good behavior while your criminal case is pending. The judge can require you to put a certain amount of money in the court’s bank account (“surety bail”) or the judge can simply require you to promise to appear for every hearing in your case and to behave (“personal recognizance”). Other conditions of bail that the judge might impose is a “no contact order” or a “no trespass order.”
The pretrial phase of your case begins once you are released on bail and it continues until your case is over. During that time, you and your criminal defense attorney request and examine the evidence turned over by the police, investigate additional evidence, and negotiate with the prosecutor hoping to reach an agreement that ends the case in a way that satisfies you and the state without having to resort to a trial. Your case can end in three ways.
A dismissal is the best way for your case to end. A dismissal happens when the prosecuting authority, usually the police department, drops the charges. There are a number of reasons why a prosecutor might dismiss your case.
A plea bargain happens when you and the prosecuting authority come to an agreement as to how your case will end. Plea bargains might include an agreement that the prosecuting authority will dismiss your case if you satisfy certain demands by the prosecutor. For example, let’s say you are charged with driving a motor vehicle with a suspended driver’s license. You did it and have no defense. The prosecutor might offer to dismiss the case if you are able to have your driver’s license reinstated in a certain amount of time. That agreement is called a “plea bargain.” The judge almost always has to agree with the plea bargain but rarely gets in the way of an agreement between you and the prosecutor.
If the prosecutor will not dismiss your case and if you cannot come to a plea bargain, then your case goes to trial. You know what a trial is. There are two ways (“verdict”) that your trial could end – “guilty” or “not guilty.” In district court, a judge will decide the verdict. You do not get a jury trial in district court. If the judge finds you not guilty, your case is over. You won. If the judge finds you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, that means you lost. After the judge finds you guilty, the judge will impose a sentence. A sentence in district court could be a term to serve at the ACI, a suspended sentence, probation, or a filing.
In Rhode Island, you have a right to a jury trial. So, if you lost your trial in the district court, you can appeal and start all over again in the superior court. If you choose to appeal the district court judge’s decision, then the verdict (“guilty”) and the sentence go away. This type of appeal is called “de novo.” The district court judge will set bail again and you will leave the courthouse waiting to receive a notice telling you when to appear in the superior court.
When you and your case arrive in the superior court, the pretrial process begins all over again. Your case might get dismissed, you might plea bargain, or you might go trial. If you go to trial in the superior, you can choose to have a judge trial (again) or a jury trial. If you win, your case is over. If you lose, the judge will sentence you. The possible sentences in the superior court are the same as they were in the district court. If you refuse to accept the sentence imposed by the superior court judge, you can appeal to the supreme court. Unlike the appeal you made from the district court to the superior court, an appeal from the superior court to the supreme court is not de novo. That means you have to live with and abide by the sentence imposed by the superior court judge until your appeal is heard and decided by the supreme court. You do not get a brand new (“de novo”) trial in the supreme court.
That’s a look at Rhode Island misdemeanors. If the police charge you with a Rhode Island misdemeanor, call the Law Office of John R. Grasso, Inc. for a free consultation.