Rhode Island bail commissioners serve a vital role in our criminal justice system because they have the responsibility to act as a neutral magistrate at the initiation of criminal proceedings. Bail commissioners are called upon to conduct special arraignments of criminal defendants at police stations throughout Rhode Island. By doing so, they protect the rights of individuals accused of crimes and the safety of the community. They are representatives of the judiciary and must be of the highest ethical standard.
The Rhode Island District Court is always open. That means even at night, on the weekends and during holidays, individuals accused of crimes have the right to appear before a representative of the Rhode Island District Court. It is the responsibility of bail commissioners to conduct these special arraignments at the police stations. It is the role of bail commissioners to make probable cause determinations, to set and take bail at special arraignments, and, when necessary, to commit individuals to the adult correctional institution. In addition, bail commissioners are routinely called upon to sign arrest warrants for local police departments.
A misdemeanor charge can result in incarceration for up to one year at the adult correctional institution and/or up to a $1,000.00 fine. In misdemeanor cases, if the bail commissioner finds probable cause to believe that the individual committed the charged offense, the bail commissioner shall notify the defendant of his/her rights and the nature of the special arraignment. The bail commissioner then sets bail. There are three types of bail: cash, surety and personal recognizance. All defendants released on bail have the obligation to appear at their court date and to keep the peace and be of good behavior.
Felony cases involve charges which result in penalties in excess of one year incarceration at the adult correctional institution and/or a fine greater than $1,000.00. Many defendants accused of felony charges are released on high surety bail. However, there are non-bailable capital offenses, such as murder, first degree sexual assault, first degree child molestation sexual assault, first degree arson, burglary, first degree robbery, kidnapping, assault with a dangerous weapon in a dwelling house, treason, unlawful sale, distribution, manufacture, and delivery of any controlled substance. In these types of cases, the defendant is held without bail at the adult correctional institution and is assigned the next available court date. Violations of no-contact orders and probation and bail violations under Rule 32(f) and 46(g) can also result in the defendant being held without bail.
For the past 20 years, I have been honored to serve as a Newport County bail commissioner. Since becoming a bail commissioner in August of 1996, I have had the privilege of working with extremely dedicated members of law enforcement in the towns of Little Compton, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Middletown, Newport and Jamestown. Also, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve with the wonderful men and women who make up the ranks of the Newport County bail commissioners. I appreciate the faith placed in me by the Rhode Island judiciary and I look forward to the next 20 years as a Newport County bail commissioner.