The ACLU of Rhode Island fights to ensure that government agencies and municipalities proceed fairly when dealing with citizens in their day-to-day dealings with the bureaucracy and in the court system. Legal rights cannot be vindicated when the government denies or severely limits the rights of individuals to seek relief in the courts, or fails to give them a meaningful opportunity to be heard and contest actions that affect their liberty.
The ACLU of Rhode Island is currently advocating for strong privacy protections to be included in a bill that undercuts the presumption of innocence and would require the collection of DNA from individuals who are merely arrested, but never convicted, for a wide array of crimes.
Due Process in the News
- Aug, 16, 2017: ACLU Sues Third RI Municipality Over Unlawful Gun Seizure by Law Enforcement
- Aug, 16, 2017: Judge Dismisses Charges Against Narragansett Residents Under Unconstitutional Housing Ordinance
- Jul, 26, 2017: ACLU Urges Newport and Providence Police Chiefs to Adopt Stricter Policies for Police Body Cameras
Due Process Related Court Cases
2017: Breault v. Goucher
- Category: Active Case Due Process Police Practices
About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against the Town of Bristol over the police department’s refusal to return to its owners a firearm that the agency seized more than a year ago. The suit is on behalf of two parents who are Bristol residents and inherited their son’s firearm collection after he tragically took his own life. The suit argues that the Bristol Police Department violated the parents’ rights to due process and their Second Amendment rights by refusing to return the firearm to them.
Suit filed in August 2017.
ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Thomas W. Lyons, Rhiannon S. Huffman
2017: Hunter v. City of Cranston
- Category: Active Case Due Process Free Speech
About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against the City of Cranston, challenging its selective enforcement of an ordinance that bars the placement of commercial advertisements on city property. The suit was filed on behalf of Stephen Hunter, an attorney who was threatened with fines if he did not take down signs advertising his business that he had posted at various intersections throughout the city – even though there were dozens of other advertising signs posted at the same locations which were left untouched and not cited.
Lawsuit filed in May 2017.
ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
Richard A. Sinapi
Due Process Related Legislation
Juvenile Interrogation (S 427)
- Category: 2017 Due Process Youth Rights
Legislation introduced by Senator William Conley (S 427) will require that a minor have a parent or guardian present during questioning by law enforcement. As one of our most recent cases shows, juveniles are generally less able to understand their legal rights while being interrogated, yet law enforcement does so as if they were well-informed adults possessing a full understanding of the weight of an interrogation. Rhode Island law generally protects children who are interrogated while at school, requiring a guardian to be present. Yet, if the child’s first interaction with a police officer occurs off campus, no such protection currently applies. This legislation would rectify that difference.
In June, the Senate passed this legislation, where it was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where no action was taken prior to the June recess.
Hoarding (H 5882, S 390)
- Category: Due Process
Earlier this year, legislation introduced by Rep. Ackerman (H 5882) and Senator Jabour (S 390) mandates that an individual who is found guilty of hoarding animals will be ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation, against their will, to determine if counseling or treatment should become an additional condition of the sentence.
Several mental health organizations and the ACLU raised their concern against this legislation, which would criminalize individuals with mental health issues in a letter stating that, “hoarding is a psychiatric disorder, and it should be recognized as such, and not as a crime. Mental health treatment is most desirable when the patient cooperates voluntarily; in cases where it is necessary and the individual will not comply, the mental health commitment law remains available.”
The bill will be voted on in the Senate the last week of June.
Vehicle Registration Suspension (H 6213, S 965) PASSED
- Category: 2017 Due Process
In early June, legislation that seeks to expand the denial of vehicle registration to individuals who may have outstanding unpaid interest or penalties on fines owed to a city or town was introduced by Rep. Blazejewski (H 6213) and Senator Goodwin (S 965).
The legislation is problematic and worrisome since it will especially impact low-income families. The ACLU submitted testimony arguing that only traffic related fines should be considered when it comes to the revocation or denial of a car registration. Using a vehicle as a tool for punishment to make individuals pay for fines that may have nothing to do with a traffic violation will have larger consequences in the long run. Driving without a registered vehicle leads to substantial penalties or even a revoked license, which simply prolongs and worsens the person’s financial issues and hardships.
Michael Araujo, Executive Director of Jobs for Justice wrote an article on RI Future about this legislation and on the impact that it will have on some of the most vulnerable Rhode Island residents.
This bill passed the House and the Senate the last week of June and signed by the Governor into law in July.
- Category: 2017 Due Process
For years, the ACLU has been objecting to the procedures used by the Vehicle Value Commission in deciding the value of cars for tax purposes. By creating an irrebuttable presumption that virtually every car on the road in the state is "like new," and providing car owners no meaningful avenue to appeal their assessments, the Commission has eliminated any real due process in its valuation practices. That may change this year, with numerous bills introduced, including one from the House Speaker, designed to address the problem. We have offered our own suggestions over the years but, as we testified before the House Finance Committee, any bill that addresses this issue is a positive step for due process. A provision to repeal the car tax over a period of years is contained in the state's budget bill.
- Category: 2017 Due Process
During the last week of April, the House Judiciary Committee heard numerous bills pitting gun owners’ rights against gun control advocates. While the ACLU does not take issue with efforts to restrict the types of weapons available for purchase, we do believe that attempts to regulate the possession of firearms can sometimes implicate other constitutional rights.
H-5262 and H-5554 would impose mandatory minimum sentences to newly created crimes involving firearms, while H-5154 would deny parole to any person convicted of a crime in which a firearm was used to commit the offense. The ACLU testified that mandatory sentences are ineffective, costly and eliminate individualized consideration of the offender and the circumstances of the offense.
H-5730 would require a national criminal record check for gun permit applicants. However, the bill does not provide any standards as to how the results of that background check will be used. In order to ensure that there is no arbitrary decision-making in disqualifying a person, the ACLU argued that there should be some reasonable standards in place specifying potentially disqualifying criminal offenses.
To understand more about our position on these bills, you can read our testimony here.