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5/23/2017 House OKs Maldonado bill to require cities, towns to adhere to right to counsel in municipal court
STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives has passed legislation introduced by Rep. Shelby Maldonado (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls) that would change the way Rhode Island cities and towns prosecute defendants in municipal court.

The bill (2017-H 5187) would require that cities and towns comply with certain procedures when prosecuting defendants such as the right to counsel, and would amend the penalties imposed for ordinance violations.

“Having the assistance of counsel for your defense is one of the most basic rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” said Representative Maldonado. “And the Bill of Rights doesn’t end at city gates. We tend to focus on state and federal courts; and it’s too easy to let municipalities fall through the cracks. But having an attorney to defend you is just as important when a person is accused of violating a town ordinance as when that person is accused of violating state law.”

Specifically, when cities or towns choose to prosecute a defendant with an offense that is punishable by imprisonment, the court would be required to advise the defendant of their right to be represented by counsel. For those who cannot afford an attorney, the court would be required to assign counsel to represent the defendant at every stage of the proceeding.

The legislation would also amend the law regarding penalties for ordinance violations, making community service mandatory instead of voluntary; making the service to a non-profit entity rather than a town agency, and changing the community restitution from not more than 10 days to not more than 50 hours for any one offense.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation (2017-S 0071) has been introduced by Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston).

For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903