RI Probation Changes Recommended
A panel of judges, legislators, and advocates recently recommended wholesale changes to RI’s probation and sentencing matrix. The Justice Reinvestment Working Group has met throughout the summer and fall.
The panel, convened by Governor Raimondo in July, found that RI criminal sentences outstrip the national averages. Felony sentences in Rhode Island average 4.9 years while the national average is 3.2 years.
The panel also recommended a change in the standard of proof for RI probation violation hearings – otherwise known as 32F violations (based on Criminal Rule of Procedure 32F). The current standard requires that probationers keep the peace and be of good behavior. If a probationer allegedly commits a new offense while on probation, the prosecution need only prove the matter to the judge’s reasonable satisfaction. The panel recommended a new standard – increasing the burden to the preponderance of the evidence – the standard traditionally used in civil matters.
The panel also addressed sentencing in probation matters. They recommended that the maximum sentence for a probation violation be limited to thirty (30) days. Based on common practice in RI courts today, I think that would be the most controversial potential change. Probation violations for misdemeanor matters in District Court routinely surpass that thirty day proposal. Additionally, a thirty day sentence in Superior Court on a 32F violation is exceedingly rare.
At this stage the changes are only recommendations. New statutes would need to be passed by the legislature to implement any of the proposals. RI’s new legislative session begins after the New Year.
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