RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Habitual Offenders

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A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
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Habitual Offenders

State v. Chiellini, 762 A.2d 450 (R.I. 2000). Sentencing justice committed reversible error by refusing state’s request that an additional “habitual criminal” sentence be imposed on defendant. R.I.S.C. vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.

A person found by a preponderance of the evidence to be previously convicted in Rhode Island or any other state of two or more felony offenses arising from separate incidents and sentenced on two or more occasions to a term in prison, will be considered a “habitual criminal” following a conviction for a third felony. Id. at 455 n. 4 (citing R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19-21).
A trial court upon finding a defendant to be a habitual criminal must impose an additional consecutive sentence, though the term is entirely within the discretion of the sentencing justice, whether months or years and whether suspended or to be served, up to the maximum of twenty-five years.
State v. Burke, 811 A.2d 1158 (R.I. 2002). Defendant qualified as a habitual offender based on two prior felonies, despite being imprisoned on only one of the convictions and receiving a suspended sentence for the other. A suspended sentence is the statutory equivalent of a “term in prison” because it is an imposed prison term which is then suspended. R.I.S.C. upheld defendant’s sentence of five years for intimidating a witness and fifteen additional years as a habitual offender.

Notice of the state’s intent to pursue a habitual offender sentence must be such that “defendant is not misled, surprised or deceived in any way by the allegations of prior convictions.” Id. at 1168.
When the state gives defense counsel the “rap sheet” of defendant’s prior convictions, the defendant has properly received notice, even if the state amends the notice at a later time to center on a different conviction on defendant’s record.
State v. Kilburn, 809 A.2d 476 (R.I. 2002). Habitual offender statute does not violate double jeopardy, and thirty years for assault with a dangerous weapon and firearms convictions plus an additional twenty years as a habitual offender was not an excessive sentence.

State v. Smith, 766 A.2d 913 (R.I. 2001). Two prior sentences imposed on the same day and ordered to be served concurrently could not be considered separate sentences within the scope of the habitual offender statute. However, double jeopardy did not preclude the state from seeking the sentence again at a later time based on a different prior sentence.

State also failed to establish prima facie proof of defendant’s prior convictions because they offered docket face sheets as evidence not accompanied by the statutorily required “authenticated copies of former judgments and commitments.”
Mattatall v. State, 947 A.2d 896 (R.I. 2008). Alford plea is a valid conviction that affords no protection from habitual offender statute.

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