Rhode Island state Sen. Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, wants to know: What is the meaning of life?
At least when it comes to sentencing someone to prison.
That’s because in Rhode Island, as in many other states, there are two types of life sentences. There is life without parole, which is levied after a special hearing held by the judge in the case after the initial trial.
And there is a life sentence that allows inmates to seek parole after serving a certain number of years, depending on the crime.
Raptakis is pressing for a bill in the current General Assembly session that would make inmates who are serving a life sentence for first-degree murder wait 30 years before being eligible for parole, instead of the current 20.
At the Feb. 11 news conference where he unveiled his proposed legislation, Raptakis argued that Rhode Island’s 20-year wait is lenient compared with other Northeastern states -- the "bottom of the barrel," he said. Later, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, he said Rhode Island was "dead last" among the states in the northeastern United States.
So, are Rhode Island’s laws on parole eligibility guilty as charged?
At his news conference, Raptakis handed out a map listing the first-degree murder penalties in 12 states, from Virginia to Maine, and the District of Columbia. (Technically, not all of the states he mentioned are considered Northeastern by the Census Bureau, although they are included in other definitions of the region.)
Raptakis said he got his information from Wikipedia.
To check, we went to the websites of each of the 12 states and the District of Columbia and read their criminal statutes for life sentences for first-degree murder.
Only Rhode Island and Virginia allowed first-degree murderers to seek parole after 20 years.
In Connecticut, Maine and New York, they become eligible after 25 years. In New Jersey and the District of Columbia, they are eligible after 30 years, in Vermont after 35.
In five other states -- Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Hampshire -- first-degree murderers are not eligible for parole.
State Sen. Leonidas Raptakis said Rhode Island is "almost dead last" among Northeastern states in the amount of time first-degree murderers must serve before they are eligible for parole.
When we examined the statutes in each of the states he cited, we found that all except Virginia have stricter sentencing requirements than Rhode Island.
We rule his claim True.