New England Advocacy Services                                                                                                        Helping to Close the Gap on Victim Services in Rhode Island




Glossary & FAQ's



Appeal: to take the decision of a lower court to a higher court for review

Defendant: the person charged with a criminal offense

Filing: the case is set aside for one year. If the defendant stays out of trouble with the law, the case will be destroyed.

NOLO: a plea of "no contest", admitting to the charges and accepting the sentence

Plead: to admit or deny the charges against you

Probation: the defendant has a certain amount of time to obey the terms of probation and be supervised by a probation officer. If he/she goes against any term of the probation, he/she will be arrested for violating the terms of the probation.

Subpoena: a court order which informs someone that he/she must come to court and testify.

Suspended Sentence: the defendant has a certain amount of time hanging over his/her head. For the amount of time suspended, the defendant must stay out of trouble with the law. If the defendant commits a new crime, he/she will face the consequence of possible jail time.



How do I know when I have to come to court?
If the defendant, the person charged with a crime, pleads "guilty" or "NOLO" you will not have to appear in court. If he/she pleads "not guilty", the judge will set pre-trial and trial dates. The court advocate will call you and send you a letter telling you what these dates are. NEAS will follow-up a few days prior to the court date to confirm our meeting you in court prior to hearing.  You should be present at both the pretrial and trial.

What is a "Court Advocate"?
A court advocate is a person who has the court's permission to address the court and can stand with you before the judge at the arraignment, pretrial and trial. You can speak to him/him about the case and ask him/her questions. He/She can speak to the judge on your behalf, or you can tell the judge what you want to happen with the case yourself. 

How can I find my Court Advocate when I go to court?
NEAS will be with you and will locate your court advocate.  You will have an opportunity to speak with the court advocate, while NEAS is with you.

What if I cannot come to the pretrial or trial?
Your presence at the pretrial is very important so that your court advocate can represent your wishes. You should also be there so the judge will see that you are interested in what happens with the case. If you are absolutely unable to go, the court advocate will do his/her best to represent your wishes and will contact you after the pretrial to tell you what happened. It is important for you to attend the trial and be a part of the court process. If you don not appear, the case may be dismissed because you are a key witness whose testimony is often required. Usually you will have been issued a subpoena, which says that you must appear and testify. If you do not appear after receiving a subpoena, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. If you know in advance that you will be unable to come, contact your court advocate and NEAS.

What if I do not want to testify?
Domestic violence is a crime in Rhode Island and the defendant has broken the laws of the state. The state is prosecuting the defendant and you are the key witness. Therefore, your testimony is therefore required.  Remember, you will not be alone, NEAS will be sitting with you through the entire court process.

What if I want to drop the case?
Again, because the defendant has broken the laws of Rhode Island, it is the state, not you, that is prosecuting the defendant. Therefore, you cannot drop the case. You can, however, play a role in determining what happens in the court process.

What is a no-contact order?
A no-contact order is an order that says that the defendant cannot have any contact with you. He/she may not see you, call you, write you, or have anyone else contact you for them. If the defendant does any of these things he/she can be arrested; contact your local police department immediately.

How do I get a no-contact order?
The no-contact order is issued at the arraignment and is immediately in effect. It is a slip of paper your advocate will send you. If you lose or do not receive the no-contact order, call your court advocate and make an appointment to see him/her. Even if you have a no-contact order you can, and should, obtain a restraining order.  NEAS will assist you in obtaining the restraining Order.

What is a restraining order?
Restraining orders are an important way to protect yourself from your abuser. You can get them at any time, whether or not he/she is on trial or has been arrested. A restraining order can be written according to your needs. For example, a restraining order can order the abuser not to contact you or assault you, to leave your house, and/or limit the contact he/she may have with your children. Temporary child custody and financial support may be established in a restraining order.

How can I get a restraining order?
There is a restraining order office in the courthouse - Room 217 on the 2nd floor. A court officer will give a copy of the restraining order to your abuser and the court date that he/she must attend. The restraining order will be good for 21 days.

After 21 days you will attend a hearing. If you want your court ordered protection to last longer than 21 days, you must attend this second hearing. Your abuser may also be there, so you may not want to be alone. If you do not attend this hearing, the court ordered protection would be lifted. If your abuser comes to the second hearing with an attorney, we recommend that you request a continuance so that you may get an attorney as well.

If you need a restraining order over the weekend, call your local police department for an emergency temporary restraining order. To have it extended past the weekend, you must go to the restraining order office on the next business day. If your abuser violates the restraining order, call the police and he/she will be arrested.  Again, NEAS will accompany you to the police station to get the emergency restraining order.  NEAS will also go with you to court to obtain the restraining order on the next business day.

When and why does a case go to Superior Court?
District Court handles all misdemeanor cases, while the Superior Court handles all felony cases. This means that your case can go to Superior Court if it is a more serious offense - for example it is not the defendant's first offense or if a weapon was used. The defendant or his/her attorney can also request that his/her case be transferred with good cause to Superior Court for a trial.

What if the defendant has a drug problem?
Alcohol and drug counseling is available in addition to domestic violence counseling. You can tell the judge (or you can ask your court advocate to tell the judge) that you feel the defendant needs alcohol and/or drug counseling.

What if the defendant needs me? What if he/she has nowhere else to live?
There are resources and people available to help you think through your options and decide what to do. There are also many shelters and services that are available to the defendant that his/her attorney can assist him/her in finding. First and foremost, you have a right to lead a life free from violence.



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