Practice Overview



Attorney Bernardo is available 24 hours a day for emergency contact for prospective and current clients. He is also available to practicing attorneys for referral and advice.


Criminal Defense

Attorney Bernardo has 33 years experience in handling misdemeanor and felony cases. Many larger firms will assign various lawyers or paralegals to handle their client’s criminal defense needs. As a solo-practitioner, you can be assured that your case will be handled by only one attorney, John Bernardo. Attorney Bernardo maintains a small practice so that he can concentrate on the specific challenges of each client’s case. Some of the many types of criminal cases that Attorney Bernardo handles are:Assault & Battery, Domestic Violence Cases, Domestic Disorderly, Arson, Disorderly Conduct, Drug and Narcotic Offenses (possession and delivery), Juvenile Offenses, (wayward and delinquency petitions), Probation Violation Hearings, Sex Offenses, Theft, Grand Larceny and Burglary, Traffic and Motor Vehicle Violations and DUI - DWI Drunk Driving and Refusal Offenses*.

When can you be arrested?

You can be arrested in Rhode Island if a judge has issued an arrest warrant which directs the police to take you into custody. If an arrest warrant has not been issued, you may be arrested if a police officer has reasonable ground to believe you have committed or are committing a felony. You may be arrested without a warrant for committing a misdemeanor if a police officer has reasonable ground to believe you have committed or are committing a misdemeanor, and believes either that you cannot be arrested at a later time, or that you may cause injury to yourself, to another person, or to property if not arrested immediately.

You may also be arrested if you have failed to appear for a criminal court date when you were required to do so. If you have failed to appear, the judge may issue a bench warrant and you may be arrested by the police and brought to the court that issued the warrant.

Resisting arrest

Rhode Island law states that police may not use greater restraint or force than is necessary in making an arrest. The law also states that it is unlawful for any person to use force or any weapon to resist a legal or an illegal arrest by a police officer. Even if you feel that the police are acting illegally by arresting you, either because they are wrong or mistaken, you may not resist that arrest. If you do resist, you may be charged with "resisting arrest" regardless of whether the original arrest by the police was legal.

Temporary detention

Police officers in Rhode Island may legally detain a person for up to two hours if they are reasonably suspicious that a person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime. The police may demand that person's name and address, and may inquire about that person's activities. If the person fails to identify himself or herself and explain his or her actions to the satisfaction of the police, he or she may be detained for further investigation. This detention is not considered to be an arrest, and at the end of the period of time the person must be released unless charged with a crime.

"You have the right to remain silent..."

Many people have the mistaken impression that the police must advise individuals of their Miranda rights immediately after the arrest. The police must advise you of your rights if they want to question you after you have been placed in custody.

The police must advise you of the following rights if they wish to speak with you once you have been placed in custody:

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say may be used against you in court.
  • You have the right to speak with an attorney prior to questioning, and have that attorney present during any interview.
  • If you wish to speak with an attorney but cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you free of charge.

If you wish to speak with the police, you may waive, or give up these rights. You are never required to waive any rights, and your decision not to waive any rights' cannot be held against you.

The police may also ask you if you will consent to let them search your property. You may allow the police to search your property, but you do not have to let them. If you do not consent to their search, they usually must ask a judge to issue a search warrant.

It is possible that the police arrest you, but do not ever attempt to question you. If that is the case, they are never required to advise you of these rights.

Your right to counsel

If you have been arrested, and the police want to question you, they are required to advise you of your right to an attorney before you answer any questions. If you cannot afford an attorney, the Department of Public Defender exists to represent you. Once you tell the police that you DO NOT WANT to talk with them until you have had a chance to speak with a lawyer, they must stop questioning you at once.

Your right to a telephone call

Rhode Island law states that you have a right to make a telephone call to secure a lawyer or to arrange for bail as soon as practicable after your arrest. The period of time, however, shall not exceed one hour. This telephone call shall be carried out in such a manner as to provide confidentiality between yourself and the person you call.

Your right to bail

If you are charged with a crime, you will be brought before a judge or a bail commissioner, and advised of the charge that you will be facing. You will also be advised of a date, or dates, that you must return to court. At your first appearance, the court will consider whether to release you on bail, and the type of bail to be set.

In Rhode Island, there are two forms of bail in common use - personal recognizance and surety bail. Most people are released on personal recognizance, which is your personal promise to appear in court on a scheduled date, and not to violate the law in the meantime. Surety bail takes several forms, the most common of which involve posting cash bail, posting a deed to real estate, or hiring a professional bail bondsman.

Not all people charged with crimes are entitled to bail. If you are arrested for a crime while you are on probation, while you are on bail for another crime, for a capital crime, or for certain drug offenses, you may be held without bail at the state prison until a bail hearing is held in court. After a hearing, you may be released on bail, or held for trial depending upon the findings of the court.

If you are released on bail, the most important thing to remember is that you must return to court on the scheduled date. You must appear on the return date even if you have not been able to hire an attorney, to explain your situation to the court. Rhode Island Bar Association



If you have been unfortunate enough to have been charged in Rhode Island with either a DUI or a Refusal (or both), the good news is that it is not a foregone conclusion that you will lose your ability to drive your vehicle once your license has been suspended.  A relatively new law in Rhode Island now makes it possible for persons with a suspended license, as a result of a DUI or Refusal, to drive their own vehicle to and from certain places (with an installed interlock device).  Attorney John Bernardo has the knowledge and experience regarding this new law and he has prepared many successful motions to enable his clients to drive even though their licenses have been suspended !  Not all lawyers are aware of the intricacies of this new law or how to file the proper paperwork and information so that a judge or magistrate may grant a hardship license.  Attorney John Bernardo has been successful numerous times in obtaining hardship licenses allowing his clients to drive with a suspended license to and from employment, medical appointments, job training, schooling, and or any other valid reason proposed by Attorney John Bernardo and approved by a judge or magistrate.  Remember, though, a hardship license can not be granted unless an interlock device has been installed in your vehicle.  Attorney John Bernardo has all the information including the contact phone numbers, location and costs for the authorized interlock installers located here in Rhode Island.   Attorney John Bernardo also has the intimate knowledge and experience necessary for all persons charged with DUI or Refusals as they navigate their way through the requirements of Operator Control at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

What constitutes driving under the influence?

Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) is probably one of the most commonly committed crimes.  Yet, the crime is sometimes committed by respectable members of the community who have never before had any trouble with the law.  The driver of a motor vehicle need not be drunk to be convicted of operating or driving under the influence of alcohol.  All that need be shown is that the driver or operator is affected by the alcohol to the extent which renders him or her incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.  A person may not seem to be drunk, but if his or her reflexes have been impaired by drinking, he or she can be convicted for driving under the influence.  Under Rhode Island law, there is no requirement that the driving be on a public road.  A person may be convicted for operating or driving a vehicle any where in the state.  It is conceivable that someone could be convicted for driving under the influence while he or she was pulling into or backing out of a private driveway or driving in a parking lot.  All that need be shown is that the person was driving and was under the influence of an intoxicating liquor to a degree that rendered the driver incapable of safe operation at the time he or she was driving.

Under Rhode Island’s drunk driving law, a person can also be found guilty of driving under the influence if, at the time of driving, he or she had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more.  The blood alcohol content becomes the crime itself.  Even if the person’s blood alcohol content is less than .08, that person can still be found guilty of DUI.  In sum, a person can be convicted of DUI if:

1. his/her blood alcohol content is .08 or above;

2. in the event that there is no blood alcohol content reading, if the officer testifies that based on certain observations, the driver was under the influence to a degree that rendered the driver incapable of safely operating; and/or

3. some combination #1 and #2 above.      

What happens if a person is stopped by the police for suspicion of driving under the influence?

If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person is operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, he/she may ask that person to perform certain tests, known as field sobriety tests, to determine whether or not the person is actually under the influence of intoxicating liquor.  Field sobriety tests vary in number and kind, and each police department favors certain tests over others.  The standardized field sobriety tests consist of the one-leg stand test, the walk and turn test, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus (rapid, involuntary, oscillatory motion of the eyeball) test.  These tests are not mandatory and the driver can refuse to submit to these tests.  However, the police officer may arrest someone if they refuse to submit to the field sobriety tests. Recently the police have begun to employ preliminary breath tests (PBTs).  These tests are not mandatory and if someone refuses to submit to a PBT he or she is subject to a fine (and despite the title of the statute), will not be suspended for refusal to submit to a preliminary breath test.  After completion of the field sobriety tests, the police officer may, based on his or her observations, arrest the person for driving under the influence, advise him or her of their constitutional rights, and ask them to submit to a chemical test.  Most police departments in Rhode Island use a breath test, although the police actually have the option of administering a breath test, a urine test or a blood test.  Under Rhode Island law, a person has the right to refuse to take any of the chemical tests.

What happens if a person refuses to take a chemical test?

In Rhode Island, anyone who operates a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to take a chemical test if a police officer reasonably believes that person is driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor.  The following administrative, as opposed to criminal, penalties will be imposed after a hearing and if someone refuses to take a chemical test and is a first-time offender:

1.) a minimum fine of $200-$500;

2.) a highway assessment fee of $500;

3.)  a $200 Department of Health assessment fee;

4.)  6 to 12 months loss of license;

5.)  10 to 60 hours of community service;

6.)  Attendance at a special course for those convicted of driving while intoxicated or drug treatment.

7.) The length of a license suspension can be reduced with the installation of an Interlock Device.

After the suspension period has expired, the person must pay a reinstatement fee and additional assessments prior to license reinstatement.  The administrative penalties are mandatory and cannot be suspended or reduced by the Traffic Tribunal Judge or Magistrate.  There are further and stricter penalties for subsequent violations for the same offense.

Some police departments are dissatisfied with an administrative conviction for refusal to submit to a chemical test.  Other police departments prosecute criminally for driving under the influence even without the benefits of breath, blood or urine test evidence.  Some police departments will prosecute a suspected drunk driver both administratively (for refusal) and criminally (for DUI).

What happens if a person agrees to take a chemical test?

Most police departments use breath testing equipment to test the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood.  The machines test the amount of alcohol a person has in his or her lungs and make a mathematical computation to convert breath alcohol to blood alcohol.

If a person agrees to take the test, the police have a certified breath test operator utilizing certified breath testing equipment.  The breath test consists of two phases. Two separate readings are taken within 15 minutes of each other.  Acceptable readings must be within + or - .020g/210L.  If results are more than + or - .020g/210L apart, a third sample is taken.  If the person’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) level is .08 or greater, the police have strong evidence of guilt of driving under the influence. If the test is given within a reasonable period of time after operation, at trial, the court is allowed to draw the inference that the BAC at the time of driving was the same as when the test was administered.

If a person agrees to take the breath test, the police must advise them of their right to have an additional test taken at the individual’s own expense, and the police must give the person a reasonable opportunity to exercise this right. In both refusal cases and driving under the influence cases, the police must advise the person, immediately after the arrest, of his or her right to be examined by a physician of their choosing at their expense and, at the trial of that person, the prosecution must prove that the person was advised of his or her right to be examined by a physician of their choosing and also prove that person was afforded an opportunity to exercise that right.

What happens if the readings indicate the person is intoxicated?

In Rhode Island chemical tests readings of .08 or more are sufficient, without any further evidence, to sustain a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol. However, a person retains the right to present evidence to dispute any evidence of intoxication, including evidence which rebuts or calls into question the chemical test result.  This rebuttal evidence can take many forms, and an attorney should be consulted with respect to preparing a defense on any charge of driving under the influence.

What happens if a person is found guilty of driving under the influence?

Driving under the influence is a criminal offense.  The minimum penalties for driving under the influence (first offense) are as follows:

1.) a fine of  $100-$400;

2.) 10 to 60 of community service;

3.) 3 to 12 months loss of license and/or up to one year in jail;

4.) a $500 highway assessment fee;

5.) a criminal/juvenile justice information system’s fee of $173; attendance at a special course for those convicted of driving while intoxicated and/or alcohol treatment;

6.) requirement to maintain proof of responsibility for 3 years additional re-instatement fees and insurance requirements for registrations.

7.) The length of a license suspension can be reduced with the installation of an Interlock Device.

There are stricter penalties including a mandatory jail sentence, for second and subsequent violations and convictions.

All of the criminal penalties, including jail sentences for second and third convictions, are mandatory and cannot be suspended or reduced by a judge. 


General Practice

Individuals as well as Business often need the services of an attorney in conducting their personal or business affairs. Attorney Bernardo has had the opportunity to assist many of those individuals and businesses in various types of legal matters. Some of the legal matters that Attorney Bernardo handles are: Business Incorporations and Contract Preparation, General Litigation (including businesses or individuals prosecuting or defending contested issues), Child Custody and Adoption, Landlord and Tenant Issues (including evictions), Names Change, and Expungement of Criminal or Driving Records.


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I am forever grateful in my decision to hire Mr. Bernardo.  He was able to get my DUI dismissed on a legal technicality .  Matthew S.,  Pawtucket

Attorney Bernardo field a motion to suppress in my DUI case and the charge was reduced and filed as a non-conviction.   Heather R., Providence

Mr. Bernardo worked on my case for six months when the judge ruled in my favor dismissing the charge of possession of a controlled substance.  Myles N., Warwick

I was charged with three felonies and they were all dismissed because Mr. Bernardo believed in me.  Jeremiah R., Cranston

I was charged with possession with intent.  Mr. Bernardo worked on my case for over a year and the charge was dismissed and expunged.   Sam D., Bristol

I hired Attorney Bernardo for a traffic court matter.  He treated me with dignity and respect and presented my case in court so that 4 of the 5 charges were dismissed.  Alan. T, Charlestown