The five-member supreme court is the state's highest appellate tribunal; it may also issue, upon request, advisory opinions on the constitutionality of a questioned act to the governor or either house of the legislature. Supreme court justices are chosen by the legislature and, like other state judges, hold office for life ("during good behavior"), but in actuality they can be removed by a mere resolution of the general assembly. In 1935, all five justices were ousted in this manner when a Democratic legislature replaced a court previously appointed by Republicans. In 1994, Chief Justice Thomas Fay resigned under impeachment pressure.
The general trial court is the superior court, with 1,012 justices in 1999. The state's trial court hears all jury trials in criminal cases and in civil matters involving more than $5,000, but can also hear non-jury cases. Superior court and district court judges are appointed by the governor with the consent of the senate.
District courts do not hold jury trials. Civil matters that involve $5,000 or less, small claims procedures, and non-jury criminal cases, including felony arraignments and misdemeanors, are handled at the district level. All cities and towns appoint judges to operate probate courts for wills and estates. Providence and a few other communities each have a municipal or police court.
According to the FBI Crime Index for 2001, the total crime rate stood at 3,684.9 per 100,000 persons, including a total of 3,278 violent crimes and 35,742 crimes against property in that year. There were 3,147 prisoners in state and federal prisons in June 2001, a decrease of 1.2% from the previous year. The state's incarceration rate stood at 179 per 100,000 inhabitants. Rhode Island does not have a death penalty.