In an important piece of criminal justice reform legislation, this bill would slightly redefine in two ways the definitions of “felony” and “misdemeanor” in Rhode Island law.
First, this bill would have removed from the definition of felony those offenses which only carry a fine above a certain threshold but no prison sentence, thus ensuring that individuals are not designated as felons for a fine-only offense and do not need to encounter the stigmatizing collateral consequences that a person serving a lengthy prison sentence for more severe crimes would.
Second, this legislation would have changed the maximum prison sentence for a misdemeanor offense from one year to 364 days, addressing a conflict between federal immigration law and Rhode Island law under which an undocumented immigrant who is convicted of an offense punishable by sentence of a year or more may be deported. Dropping the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor by one day would have ensured that undocumented individuals are not subject to unnecessary and harsh immigration penalties for misdemeanor offenses.
While this bill passed the Senate, it unfortunately died in the House.