How does Rhode Island define a “hate crime”?

In Rhode Island, a hate crime is “any crime motivated by bigotry and bias, including, but not limited to threatened, attempted, or completed acts that appear after investigation to have been motivated by racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or disability prejudice or motivated by prejudice against a person who is homeless or is perceived to be homeless” (R.I. Gen. Laws, § 42-28-46 (a)(2)). “Gender identity or expression” was added in 2012.

In order to track hate crimes, the State has set up a reporting system so that incidents alleged are centrally recorded (R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-28-46 (b)). All police departments within the state are required to have training on identifying, responding to and reporting hate crimes (R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-28.2-8.1), and must report monthly the occurrence of such crimes to the state police, who must maintain a permanent record of the offenses, categorized by community of occurrence, type of offense, and target (R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-28-46 (b)).

Does Rhode Island have increased sentencing for hate crimes?

Yes, Rhode Island law establishes additional penalties for crimes motivated by hatred or animus toward the victim’s actual or perceived, religion, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or gender (R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19-38(a)). Although “gender identity or expression” was added in 2012 to the definition of a “hate crime” as noted above, it has not been added to the hate crimes sentencing statute.

If it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a person was motivated by hatred or animus toward a person’s protected characteristic, then the person shall, for a misdemeanor, be sentenced to no less than 30 days mandatory imprisonment and, for a felony, be sentenced to an additional, consecutive term of imprisonment for not less than 1 year and no more than 5 years (R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-19-38(c) and (d)).

Where can I call if I think I’ve been a victim of a hate crime?

Begin by contacting the local police. Police officers do not actually charge people with hate crimes, but will need to provide the prosecutor with evidence that the crime was motivated by bias, so be sure to explain all of the factors that make you think this was a hate crime.  You may
also contact the criminal division of the Attorney General’s office at (401) 274-4400.

For support and advocacy, contact:  Day One, Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource of Rhode Island, (401) 421-4100 or (800) 494-8100.


What other options do I have if I think I have been a victim of a hate crime?

In addition to pursuing your rights in the criminal justice system, you can contact the Office of the Civil Rights Advocate of the Attorney General’s Office at (401) 274-4400.  The Civil Rights Advocate is authorized to receive complaints, to conduct investigations, education and training, and to bring civil actions for injunctions or other equitable relief to address physical threats, trespassing, property destruction, or harassment that interfere “with the exercise or enjoyment by any other person of rights secured by the United States Constitution or the laws of the United States or of rights secured by the Constitution of Rhode Island or laws of the state.”  In addition, a fine of up to $5,000 may be imposed (R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-9.3).

An injunction under this provision does not prevent you, depending on the circumstances, from seeking monetary damages for harms you experienced from the crime committed against you.

In what ways might the recently passed federal hate crimes law help to investigate and prosecute hate crimes?

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed by Congress on October 22, 2009 and was signed into law by President Obama on October 28, 2009.  It expands the 1969 United States federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

First, and perhaps foremost, the Act allows local and state law enforcement agencies to apply for the following federal assistance from the U.S. Attorney General:

  • investigative, technical, forensic or prosecutorial support for criminal investigations and prosecutions,
  • grants for extraordinary expenses associated with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, and
  • grants to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles.

In providing assistance to local and state authorities, the priorities are hate crimes:

  • where the offender(s) has committed crimes in more than one state, or
  • that occur in rural areas which do not have the resources needed to prosecute such crimes.

Second, for hate crimes that in some way involve crossing state or national borders, or involve or affect interstate commerce, and where a state does not have jurisdiction or has requested federal assumption of jurisdiction, or where the federal government feels that justice has not been served or that U.S. prosecution is in the public interest, the Act authorizes the federal government to prosecute the case.

The Act also requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track statistics on hate crimes on the basis of gender and gender identity (statistics for the other groups are already tracked) and on crimes committed by and against juveniles.  This is the first federal law to explicitly extend legal protections to transgender persons.