Excessive Sentencing Project - Rhode Island

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Rhode Island.

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  • The state allows certain first-time offenders to continue working or attending school while serving their sentence at a minimum-security facility. 
State Constitution

Art. 1, § 8. Bail, fines and punishments: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel punishments inflicted; and all punishments ought to be proportioned to the offense.

Sentencing Statutes

First-time offenders: Judges may sentence certain first-time offenders to terms in minimum-security, overnight facilities and allow them to continue reporting to work or school during business hours. R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19-2(b). Corrections officials may charge these first-time prisoners for their stays. R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19-2(e). 

Habitual offenders: The state mandates sentencing enhancements of up to 25 additional years in prison for offenders upon their third felony conviction. R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19-21. 

Sentencing guidelines: Each year the justices of the superior court (with approval of the justices of the state’s supreme court) adopt a schedule of presumptive sentences for each type of felony that constituted more than 5% of the criminal caseload in the superior court during the preceding year. R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19.3-2. Trial judges may stray from the presumptive range when they find “substantial and compelling circumstances” which justify an alternative sentence. R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19.3-3. The aggrieved party has 20 days to appeal a sentence that departs upwardly (the defendant) or downwardly (the state) from the presumptive range. R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19.3-4. 

Case Law

General 

The state supreme court will uphold a postconviction relief decision absent clear error or a determination that the hearing justice misconceived or overlooked material evidence. Rodrigues v. State, 985 A.2d 311 (R.I. 2009).

The penalty enhancements under the state’s habitual offender statute are mandatory, and a trial judge commits reversible error if he or she refuses to impose an additional sentence on a defendant found to be a habitual offender. State v. Chielli, 762 A.2d 450 (R.I. 2000).

Proportionality 

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The proportionality principles embodied in the state constitution are “identical” to those of the federal constitution. State v. Monteiro, 924 A.2d 784, 795 (R.I. 2007). The court will overturn a sentence when it is unduly harsh when compared to the crime. McKinney v. State, 843 A.2d 463, 470 (R.I. 2004). The court will conduct a comparative analysis of sentences for similar convictions only if it first finds that the sentence is unduly harsh when compared to the crime. McKinney, 843 A.2d at 470.

Severe Sentences 

Court upheld a five-year assault sentence, with a 25-year enhancement pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19-21, against a prisoner who threw urine and feces at a correctional officer. The offender was sentenced to a total of seven years worth of additional time, with 23 years of probation. State v. Lyons, 924 A.2d 756 (R.I. 2007).

Court upheld 20-year sentence for second-degree child molestation and simple assault; sentence was “far in excess” of those generally imposed for second-degree child molestation convictions, according to a statistical analysis provided during the postconviction relief hearing. Alessio v. State, 924 A.2d 751, 755 (R.I. 2007).

Court reinstated plea-bargained sentence of 60 years (defendant to serve 40) stemming from an armed robbery during which the defendant fired shots at a security guard and police officer. McKinney, 843 A.2d at 465.