Rhode Island’s District Courts are the limited jurisdiction trial courts for the state. They handle both criminal and civil cases. District Courts are split into six judicial districts. These courts have concurrent jurisdiction with Superior Courts for all civil claims of between $5,000 - $10,000.
The types of cases resolved by District Courts are tort cases, real property cases up to $10,000, small claims cases of up to $2,500, contract disputes, mental health issues, landlord/tenant disputes, preliminary hearings for felonies, administrative agency appeals, and misdemeanors.
District Courts process misdemeanor cases where the punishment is up to one year in prison, and the fines do not exceed $1,000. District Courts also have a special division for helping veterans deal with war-related issues and treatment. District Courts do not use juries; they use only bench trials with the judge making all decisions. District Courts specialize in landlord/tenant disputes, small claims, and other self-represented legal issues. The judicial branch website offers additional resources for litigants dealing with these types of issues such as handbooks, FAQs, legal definitions, rules, and procedures of the court.
The Rhode Island Judiciary website has dozens of forms posted on their website to help patrons of District Courts file their cases. The forms are organized by court type and then alphabetical. They even offer some forms in other languages. Additionally, Rhode Island has an e-filing option as well and explicit instructions for patrons on how to use the system. Payments for fees and fines may be made online also.
On average, District Courts in Rhode Island hear about 64,658 new cases per year. Of those, 27,613 are for civil issues, 24,173 are for misdemeanors, 6,694 are for felonies, 4,578 are for small claims and 926 are for abuse. Additionally, 128 are administrative appeals, and the rest (546) are for mental health hearings.