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Understanding Rhode Island's Habitual Offender Statute: Implications for Criminal Defendants

Posted by Kara Hoopis Manosh | Sep 19, 2023 | 0 Comments

Facing criminal charges is a serious matter, and in Rhode Island, there exists a legal provision known as the Habitual Offender Statute that can significantly impact the consequences of a conviction.  

Rhode Island's Habitual Offender Statute: An Overview

The Habitual Offender Statute, found under Rhode Island General Laws § 12-19-21, is a legal provision that enhances the penalties for individuals who have a history of prior convictions. Specifically, it applies to defendants who have previously been convicted of certain offenses and who commit subsequent crimes.

Key Elements of the Habitual Offender Statute:

  1. Prior Convictions: To be subject to the Habitual Offender Statute, a defendant must have at least two prior convictions for certain enumerated offenses. 

  2. Subsequent Offense: The defendant must be accused of a new crime that falls under the jurisdiction of the Habitual Offender Statute. This means that the current offense must be one that is also listed in the statute.

Implications for Criminal Defendants:

For criminal defendants in Rhode Island, being subject to the Habitual Offender Statute can have significant consequences:

  1. Increased Penalties: The statute imposes enhanced penalties for subsequent offenses committed by habitual offenders. These penalties can include longer prison sentences, higher fines, and more severe consequences.  An additional twenty-five (25) years in prison is possible for a felony habitual offender notice.  

  2. Limited Options: Habitual offender status can limit a defendant's options for plea negotiations and sentencing. Prosecutors may be less inclined to offer favorable plea deals to individuals subject to the statute.

  3. Challenges in Court: Proving habitual offender status requires the prosecution to demonstrate the defendant's prior convictions and establish that the current offense falls under the statute. Defendants may challenge these claims in court.

Challenging the Habitual Offender Status:

Defendants subject to the Habitual Offender Statute have the right to challenge their status. They may argue against the classification of the current offense as one that falls under the statute or dispute the validity of their prior convictions. Effective legal representation is crucial in mounting such challenges.  For example, Manosh Payette, LLC recently successfully challenged a habitual offender notice based upon changes in the law that effected how a prior offense is now categorized (from felony to misdemeanor).  

Legal Defense Strategies:

Defendants facing charges under the Habitual Offender statute in Rhode Island often seek legal defenses to challenge its application. Some potential defense strategies may include:

  • Challenging the Validity of Prior Convictions: Defendants may challenge the validity of prior convictions used to establish habitual offender status.

  • Statute of Limitations: In some cases, the statute of limitations for prior convictions may have expired, making them ineligible to be used as predicate offenses.

  • Evidence Suppression: Defendants may challenge the admissibility of evidence related to prior convictions.

  • Mistaken Identity: If there is evidence of mistaken identity or a wrongful conviction among the prior convictions, it can be used as a defense.

Conclusion: The Importance of Legal Counsel

Understanding Rhode Island's Habitual Offender Statute is vital for defendants facing criminal charges, especially if they have a history of prior convictions. Seeking the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential for navigating the complexities of the statute, challenging habitual offender status when appropriate, and securing the best possible outcome in a criminal case. Legal counsel can provide guidance, advocate for the defendant's rights, and work to mitigate the potential consequences of being subject to the Habitual Offender Statute

About the Author

Kara Hoopis Manosh

Attorney Manosh has dedicated her entire career to defending the rights of the criminally accused. She has handled thousands of cases, appearing in every courthouse in the State of Rhode Island.


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