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Rhode Island Capital Punishment Laws

The death penalty, or capital punishment, was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 (Gregg v. Georgia) after it was ruled unconstitutional just a few years earlier. This ruling didn't reinstate capital punishment everywhere, though, but gave states the okay to use the death penalty if they choose. Most states reinstated the ultimate penalty but it has fallen out of favor with many Americans and has been banned in a number of states. Even some states where capital punishment technically is legal either have a moratorium in place or haven't executed a prisoner in decades. It remains a controversial punishment in the U.S. and around the world, as virtually all industrialized nations except the U.S. have banned it.

Capital punishment is primarily reserved for those convicted of first-degree murder, particularly where there is a lack of remorse or a pattern of cruelty. But those who commit murder in the commission of another felony (even if accidental) also may be sentenced to death. Lethal injection is the most common method for executions, but some give the accused the option to be executed by hanging, electric chair, or other methods.

Rhode Island Capital Punishment Laws at a Glance

Rhode Island was among the first U.S. states to prohibit capital punishment, back in 1852, and has not executed a convict since 1845. Interestingly, the state has reinstated it more than once in its history but never executed anyone during those periods. The state's last execution was of an Irish Catholic immigrant who historians believe was convicted out of anti-immigrant sentiment, which triggered a backlash by Rhode Island's labor movement against the death penalty.

See FindLaw's Death Penalty section for more articles and resources.

Code Section 11-23-2
Is Capital Punishment Allowed? No (abolished in 1852)
Effect of Defendant's Incapacity -
Minimum Age -
Available for Crimes Other than Homicide? -
Definition of Capital Homicide -
Method of Execution -

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the enactment of newly signed legislation and voter-approved ballot initiatives, decisions from higher courts, and other means. While we strive to ensure the accuracy of these pages, you may also want to contact a Rhode Island criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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