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Rhode Island Senate Passes Bill to Revise Rhode Island’s Criminal Definitions

In a move aimed at reforming Rhode Island’s criminal justice system, legislation sponsored by Sen. Jonathon Acosta (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket) to revise the state’s definitions of felonies, misdemeanors, and petty misdemeanors has been approved by the Senate.

The proposed bill, numbered 2024-S 2100, echoes similar legislation previously approved by the Senate during the 2021, 2022, and 2023 sessions. It seeks to address issues within the state’s legal framework by easing pressures on the correctional system, promoting diversion and rehabilitation, and enhancing public safety.

Senator Acosta emphasized the necessity of addressing systemic injustices that disproportionately affect residents of color or those with limited socio-economic status. He clarified that the bill aims to rectify an unintentional overlap between Federal immigration law and Rhode Island General Laws concerning misdemeanors. Concerns raised over the past three years primarily revolved around potential unintended consequences, with opponents suggesting the bill might shield perpetrators of serious crimes from severe immigration repercussions. Senator Acosta, however, asserted after extensive research that such concerns were unfounded. He stressed that updating outdated definitions would mitigate persistent judicial injustices, save taxpayer money, and alleviate pressures on the correctional system, ultimately leading to meaningful positive impacts on individuals striving to reintegrate into society.

The proposed legislation seeks to redefine felonies, misdemeanors, and petty misdemeanors. A felony would be defined as any criminal offense punishable by imprisonment for over one year, while a misdemeanor would encompass offenses punishable by imprisonment exceeding six months but not exceeding 364 days, or solely by a fine exceeding $1,000. Petty misdemeanors would cover offenses punishable by imprisonment not exceeding six months or solely by a fine between $500 and $1,000.

Senator Acosta clarified that the redefinition of misdemeanors would specifically prevent non-deportation eligible offenses from escalating into aggravated felonies under immigration law. He emphasized that a 364-day suspended sentence would prevent a misdemeanor from becoming an aggravated felony. However, he underscored that certain crimes, such as domestic violence, remain deportable offenses regardless of the sentence. For instance, while a legal permanent resident receiving probation for domestic assault may still face deportation, a one-year suspended sentence for the same offense would escalate it to an aggravated felony, leaving no recourse for deportation relief.

The legislation will now proceed to the House for consideration, where Rep. Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket) has introduced a companion bill numbered 2024-H 7527.




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