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4/11/2024 Senate passes Acosta’s bill to redefine felonies, misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors
STATE HOUSE – 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 proposal (2024-S 2100) mirrors legislation the Senate has approved during the 2021, 2022 and 2023 sessions and it is an effort to reform the state’s criminal justice system by focusing on easing pressures on the correctional system and promoting diversion and rehabilitation while increasing public safety.
“As we continue to recognize the injustices enshrined throughout our judicial system that have had detrimental impacts on predominantly residents of color or limited socio-economic status, this bill will help correct an unintentional overlap between Federal immigration law and Rhode Island General Laws on misdemeanors.  The main opposition to this bill over the past three years has been the vague suggestion that it might have unintended consequences and shield perpetrators of egregious crimes from the most severe immigration consequences.  After countless hours of research, I can firmly say that this is not the case and it will not protect perpetrators of the most heinous crimes from punishment.  Updating these outdated definitions will help alleviate persistent judicial injustices while also saving the taxpayers money and easing pressures on the correctional system.  Most importantly though, this bill will have a meaningful and beneficial impact on the lives of individuals who have made mistakes, but who are also sincere and genuine about being productive members of our society,” said Senator Acosta.
The bill would redefine a felony as “any criminal offense which at any given time may be punished by imprisonment for a term of more than one year.” A misdemeanor would be defined as “any criminal offense which may be punishable by imprisonment for a term of more than six months and not exceeding 364 days, or solely by a fine of more than $1,000.” A petty misdemeanor would be “any criminal offense which may be punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or solely by a fine of more than $500, or both, and not more than $1,000.”
Senator Acosta notes that this change in the definition of a misdemeanor would only prevent non-deportation eligible offenses from turning into aggravated felonies under immigration law. A 364-day suspended sentence stops a sentence from becoming an aggravated felony.  Aggravated felonies are crimes of violence or theft with the addition of a prison sentence of a year or more, regardless of whether it’s suspended, home confinement or time to serve.  A change in sentence definition would not turn deportable offenses into non-deportable ones.
Senator Acosta also notes as an example, a domestic crime of violence is always a deportable offense, regardless of sentence.  So, a legal permanent resident that receives a filing or probation on a domestic assault incident would still be deportable, but may be eligible for relief, such as cancellation of removal.  A domestic assault with a one-year suspended/probation sentence, however, constitutes an aggravated felony, which means not only is it deportable, but there would be no relief from deportation.
The legislation now heads to the House for consideration where Rep. Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket) has introduced the bill (2024-H 7527).

For more information, contact:
Andrew Caruolo, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903