Rhode Island Public Defender

Our mission is to provide high quality representation to our clients, fulfilling the governmental obligation of effective assistance of counsel, fundamental fairness and due process. Our goal is to provide client-centered advice, holistic representation and zealous advocacy. Our commitment is to treat our clients with dignity, compassion and fairness.
Mary S. McElroy, Public Defender

What is this Handbook About?

This handbook is provided by the Rhode Island Office of the Public Defender. It is designed to explain how the criminal justice system works. As unlikely as it may seem, anyone may someday find him or herself or a family member suspected of criminal activity or even under arrest.

One of the biggest problems with the criminal justice system is that most people have no opportunity to find out how it works until it is too late--until they are charged with a crime and are “in the middle of it.” It can be a very frightening experience to be taken to court, whether for a first offense or a fourth. Part of the fear comes from being in the dark, not knowing what is going to happen and what the process is all about. It is normal for people charged with a crime to feel some nervousness: it is a serious event. Too much fear, however, is not necessary and can be lessened by knowledge of the proceedings.

It is also important for people to know what they can do personally to help a lawyer prepare a defense. Sometimes a suspect can help his or her lawyer make it less likely that an arrest will even occur. Some things a client does, though, may make it very difficult for a lawyer to effectively defend the case. For example, if a person confesses a crime to the police, it may be almost impossible to defend the client at a trial or even to negotiate a good sentence. Defendants who are aware that they do not have to give statements to the police help to protect themselves. Clients who understand their rights can make some decisions for themselves about their cases; the more knowledge one has of the system, the better.

Another purpose of this handbook is to let you know what some of your general rights are. It will give you some help in knowing what the police can do and what they can’t do; usually, there is no lawyer immediately available and decisions must be made. Most importantly, every citizen ought to know how the criminal justice system works so that the decisions we all make as citizens in our input to legislative representatives, our voting in elections, our reactions to events around us and our possible service as jurors will be better informed.

This handbook is not a substitute for a lawyer or for legal advice. It can only give overall guidance in what the law provides. Each individual situation is different from the next and only a lawyer can give advice geared to a particular problem.

Most of this handbook concerns adults only. A special section, entitled JUVENILES, explains what happens to minors under the age of 18 who are charged with offenses. If you have children, you ought to know what the juvenile offender system is about since the protection of your child is ultimately your responsibility.

Copyright © 2013 Rhode Island Public Defender