Written by attorney Benjamin Anthony Mesiti

ARREST 101: What To Do In The Event of An Arrest (Particularly in the State of Rhode Island)


Actually, there are certain things you should know even prior to being arrested in the State of Rhode Island. Follow these simple, basic rules, and you could avoid making your case worse, and make it easier for your lawyer to do his/her job.

1) YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT... USE IT! You do not have to give any information regarding the facts of your case to the police. Any facts you give to them will be used against you and will help the police prosecute you. If you have been arrested, simply insist on having your lawyer present and remain silent until he/she arrives.

2) ASK FOR A LAWYER! This is the single most important thing you can do if you are arrested. Once you ask for a lawyer, the police are not allowed to ask you questions regarding the facts of the case. Having a lawyer present is your Constitutional right; all you have to do is ask!

3) BEWARE OF COMMON POLICE TACTICS! If you are arrested with a co-defendant, police will often try to pin you against each other. It is not illegal for the police to erroneously inform you that your friend has "spilled the beans" and told them that you were responsible for a crime. This is a common tactic to make you talk. When anything like this happens, just remember rule #1; remain silent and ask for a lawyer.

You've been silent, you asked for a lawyer, and now you’re getting booked, processed and charged with a crime. What happens to you now?

Well, you could be charged with a Violation, a Misdemeanor, or a Felony.

A VIOLATION carries a fine of up to $500.00, but no jail time.

A MISDEMEANOR carries a file of up to $1000.00 and/or up to one year in jail.

A FELONLY carries a fine of $1000 or more and/or more than one year in jail.

If you are given a violation, then you will most likely be released with a ticket to return back to court to answer for the violation. Typically, you are not entitled to a lawyer (or a public defender), but you are always free to bring one with you.

If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony, you will typically be held at the police station until the next morning and brought to the courthouse for an arraignment. An arraignment is when charges are formally brought upon you and bail will be set. In some cases, you may request a Bail Commissioner, who will come to the police station and arraign you for a fee. If you are arrested on a weekend, it is very likely that you would be arraigned by a Bail Commissioner.

At the arraignment, you either plead "Guilty" or "Not Guilty". If you do not have a lawyer present for this, or you do not know what to do, it is usually best to plead "Not Guilty" and then seek immediate legal help.

There are certain types of bail that you should be familiar with. In any bail situation, if you are released, you promise to keep the peace, be of good behavior, show up to your scheduled court dates and not get arrested. Failure to do so could result in your bail being revoked, and you will wait in jail while your case is pending:

1) PERSONAL RECOGNIZANCE: This is your promise to return to the court on your scheduled court date, without being required to pay any money or post any property to secure your release.

2) CASH BAIL: The judge will require you to pay a certain sum of cash to secure your release.

3) SURETY BAIL: If surety bail is set, then you are required to post 10% in cash, or 100% in property to secure your bail. For this type of bail, you are usually allowed to hire a bondsman to post the bail for you, for a fee. There are other legal ramifications to surety bails that your lawyer can counsel you on prior to your decision to use or not use a bondsman.

4) HWOB (HELD WITHOUT BAIL): There are certain charges in which you are not entitled to bail. These charges include capital offenses (such as rape, robbery, murder), and violent drug crimes (such as possession with intent to deliver and manufacturing). In the instance where you are HWOB, you are entitled to a bail hearing within 10 business of your arraignment. At that time, a judge will determine whether bail should be set or whether you will remain in jail while your case is pending.

So, what happens now that I'm arraigned?

If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you will typically have a court date within two weeks. Before this date you should either apply for a Public Defender, or hire a private lawyer. The first court date is for your lawyer and the prosecutor to discuss the merits of your case. This may require several court appearances, depending on the complexity of your legal issues. Once all of the discussions are over, and assuming that your case is not dismissed, you must decide whether you are to make a deal and dispose of your case, or proceed to trial.

You always have the right to a trial! Your lawyer will advise you as to what is in your best interest. Remember that there are no jury trials in Rhode Island District Court. If you proceed to trial in District Court, you will be tried by a judge sitting without a jury. If you would like a trial by jury, your lawyer may request that your case be moved to Superior Court where you will be able to have a jury hear your case.

In most situations, you want your case to stay in District Court and have a trial by a judge sitting without a jury. Why? Because if you lose your trial, you may appeal your case to Superior Court and get a new trial, or a trial "de novo". This means that you will have a brand new second trial in Superior Court, with a jury if desired, as if the first District Court trial had never happened.

If you are charged with a felony, the procedure is a bit different. Your case will either be reviewed by the Attorney General's Office for charging, or proceed to the Grand Jury (for indictment) if the charge is a capital offense. Once your case is charged or indicted, you will proceed to Superior Court where you will be re-arraigned on the felony charges and assigned a court date to discuss your case with the judge and a member of the Attorney General's Office. If you are assigned a PAC (Pre-Arraignment Conference) date, your lawyer will speak to the prosecutor prior to your Superior Court arraignment to discuss disposing of the case. If no agreement can be made, then your case proceeds to Superior Court. From there, the process is similar to District Court in which your lawyer discusses the case with the judge and prosecutor. Once discussions are over, you may accept a plea agreement or proceed to trial. Unlike District Court, however, there is no "de novo" appeal if you lose. Your lawyer can advise you on any appellate rights you may have at that time.

What happens if I plead or am found guilty?

If you have either accepted a plea (guilty or nolo contendere) or have been found guilty after trial, you will be sentenced on your case. Your lawyer will be allowed to make a sentencing argument for you if you are found guilty after trial. Here is a brief list of common sentencing possibilities. In all cases, fines and costs may be added at the judge's discretion. If a fine is imposed, it is considered a "conviction", so it is important to consult a lawyer prior to accepting any fine:

1) FILING: A filing is not a conviction. Basically, the Court elects to put your case "on file" for one year. If you remain out of trouble during that time, you will be eligible to have your case expunged off of your record at the end of that one year period.

2) PROBATION: You will be required to sign and obey a set of written conditions set forth by the probation department. You may also be required to check in with probation as your probation officer sees fit. This is referred to as "supervised probation". It is important to note that if you are found guilty after trial and given probation, this is a conviction. A pre-trial plea to probation is not a conviction after the probationary period is over.

3) SUSPENDED SENTENCE: The judge will sentence you to jail time, but will "suspend" that sentence if you stay out of further trouble and abide by the conditions of the Court. You will not have to serve that time unless you violate those conditions or are charged with another crime.

4) JAIL/HOME CONFINEMENT: If you are sentenced to jail, you will be brought to the prison and serve your sentence. If you are sentenced to home confinement, you will be surrendered to the prison on your home confinement review date and released on the bracelet the next day.

What happens if I get arrested while I've been sentenced to any of the above?

If you are on a filing, probation, suspended sentence or home confinement, you promise the Court to keep the peace, be of good behavior, and not get arrested for the duration of your sentence. If you fail to do so, you are in violation of your sentence and could be required to serve all or part of the full sentence in jail.

If you have any further criminal law questions, please visit or email at [email protected]

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