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Florida man faces hate crimes sentencing enhancement stemming from alleged road rage incident

An indictment, information, or complaint is merely an allegation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that a Florida man is facing multiple felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from an alleged road rage incident in East Greenwich in 2020.

Joseph Francis (age 35), of Pompano Beach, FL, was arraigned today in Kent County Superior Court and charged with three counts of felony assault, three counts of using a firearm while committing a crime of violence, one count of carrying a pistol without a license, one count of carrying a weapon while intoxicated, one count of possession of a controlled substance, one count of driving under the influence of liquor, one count of possession of a prohibited weapon other than a firearm, and one count of disorderly conduct.

The Office of the Attorney General filed a notice with the court that it intends to pursue a hate crimes sentencing enhancement in the case.

As alleged in the criminal information, on the evening of July 12, 2020, Rhode Island State Police responded to a call for assistance on Route 4 in East Greenwich involving a reported road rage incident.

That evening, Francis was involved in a near collision with another car carrying three individuals while driving north on Route 4. It is alleged that the near collision led to Francis directing racial epithets at the people in the other car. This led to a physical confrontation after all parties got out of their cars, at which point Francis allegedly brandished a firearm and threatened the three occupants of the other car before driving away.

Special Assistant Attorney General Robert Johnson IV of the Office of the Attorney General and the Rhode Island State Police led the investigation and ongoing prosecution of this case.

Rhode Island Hate Crime Sentencing Enhancement Law

If a defendant is convicted of a criminal offense, there is a separate sentencing hearing at which the State must prove that the criminal offense was motivated by "the actor's hatred or animus toward the actual or perceived disability, religion, color, race, national origin or ancestry, sexual orientation, or gender of that person." If the court determines beyond a reasonable doubt that the criminal offense was so motivated, the penalty for the criminal offense can be increased pursuant to the Rhode Island Hate Crimes Sentencing Act.