If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to a fair and speedy trial. But a lot goes on between the arrest and the subsequent trial, and the rules vary a bit from one state to another. Here is a rundown of what you can expect from the criminal process in Rhode Island.
The Arrest or Summons
Criminal cases often begin with an arrest, though in some instances, instead of being brought into jail, you may simply be given a summons to appear in court. If you are arrested, the arresting officer must inform you of the charges and read you your rights, including the right to remain silent. It is almost always best to not give a statement or answer any questions until your lawyer is present.
Bail and Release
If you are taken into police custody, your highest priority will likely be getting released. If you’re eligible for bail, the amount will vary depending on the severity of the alleged crime and whether the court feels you can be trusted to show up for mandatory court appearances. In some cases, defendants are released on their own recognizance.
Entering a Plea
The point in the criminal process in which you enter your plea is called the arraignment. In Rhode Island, you have three plea options: guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere, which means “no contest.” No contest pleas require the consent of the court and the prosecution.
Should You Plea Bargain?
Depending on the circumstances of your case, the prosecution may offer you a plea deal. For example, in exchange for a guilty or no contest plea, often to a lesser charge, you may be able to arrange a lighter sentence than you might face if your case went to court. The vast majority of U.S. criminal cases are resolved this way. But plea bargaining is not for everyone.
Before a case can go to trial, the court may need to hold a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough admissible evidence for the matter to go to trial. For capital offenses in Rhode Island, this is done by grand jury. The grand jury will hear the evidence and decide whether to issue an indictment, which officially charges a defendant with a crime.
Trial and Sentencing
If your case goes to trial, each side will get to present evidence and witnesses — and also have the opportunity to challenge testimony from the opposing side — before a jury or judge, who ultimately decides whether to find your guilty or not guilty. If the latter verdict is handed down, the next step is sentencing.
Trust Your Case to a Rhode Island Criminal Lawyer
Because each state has its own rules for handling criminal cases, it is crucial to work with a lawyer who is well versed with these procedures in your state. Rhode Island criminal defense lawyers help people every day navigate the Rhode Island criminal process.