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Assembly updates explosives laws to include IEDs

STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata to strengthen Rhode Island’s outdated law on bombs and other explosive devices.

The legislation, which will now be sent to the governor, addresses loopholes that have hindered the filing of charges following incidents involving explosive devices, such as one in April when a pressure cooker bomb was discovered off Hopkins Hill Road in West Greenwich.

“Much has changed since our explosives law was written in 1957. Today, unfortunately, the threat comes from powerful improvised explosive devices, and law enforcement needs to be able to spring into action before a potentially lethal incident occurs. These updates are needed to protect Rhode Islanders from the threats that exist in today’s world,” said Speaker Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston).

Said Senator Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), “Rhode Island has struggled in recent years to prosecute some instances involving explosives, particularly IEDs. Our bill gives prosecutors and law enforcement the tools they need to respond to 21st century threats and prevent tragedies from occurring in our state,” said Senator Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston).

The bill (2018-H 8156A, 2018-S 2952) updates the existing law to protect against improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in several ways. First, it expands the definition of explosive devices to include any device intended to explode. Current law applies only to traditional bombs and explosives, so police can’t use it to charge individuals with IEDs.

Second, the bill adds possession of such devices to the law as an offense punishable by three to 20 years in prison and fines of $1,000 to $10,000. Current law punishes only those who actually place a bomb or explosive somewhere, so even if someone is caught heading somewhere with a backpack full of explosives, they cannot be charged under the current explosives law.

Additionally, the bill eliminates a part of the law that limits its application to devices placed “in any public or private building, or area where persons may lawfully assemble.” The language could stand in the way of charges being brought for bombs placed in tents, sheds, vehicles and outdoors and other settings that might not fit that definition.

Finally, the bill allows charges to be brought against those possessing the “readily converted” components of an explosive device. Under current law, charges can’t be brought unless the device is fully assembled, so someone setting up an explosive device could escape charges any time before they’ve connected the final wire to the battery of the IED. The bill is carefully crafted to allow people to possess components for lawful purposes, since many of the components of IEDs are everyday objects such as nails and pressure cookers, as well as legal pyrotechnics and firearms items.

Rhode Island’s laws regarding explosives lag those of neighboring states, such as Massachusetts, where pressure cooker IEDs were used to carry out the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

The legislation is supported by the Rhode Island State Police.

Cosponsors of the House bill include Rep. Antonio Giarrusso (R-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), House Deputy Speaker Charlene M. Lima (D-Dist. 14, Cranston, Providence) and House Senior Deputy Majority Leader Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren). The Senate bill is cosponsored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).