Due Process Issues The ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News Releases


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Due Process

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.

Due Process in the News

  • Nov, 21, 2019: ACLU Settles Suit Against N. Smithfield Police for Falsely Labeling Resident “Unstable,” “Dangerous”
  • Oct, 22, 2019: Lawsuit Over Ban on Non-Profit Legal Organizations Assisting Non-Indigent Clients Resolved
  • Oct, 17, 2019: Lawsuit Over Food Stamp Benefit Delays Caused by UHIP Computer Debacle Finally Ends

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Due Process Related Court Cases

2019: Barrington School Committee v. Student
Category: Active Case    Due Process    Free Speech    Right to Petition & Protest    Students' Rights    Youth Rights    

About this Case:
This is a lawsuit brought by the Barrington School Committee against the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education (CESE) and a middle school student who successfully challenged his three-day out-of-school suspension - twice.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in October 2019.

Aubrey Lombardo

Supporting Documents
2019: Lombardi and Davis v. Raimondo
Category: Active Case    Civil Rights    Criminal Justice    Due Process    Free Speech    Rights of Ex-Offenders    

About this Case:
This is a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a 110-year-old Rhode Island statute that declares inmates serving life sentences at the ACI to be “dead in all respects” with respect to “all civil rights.”

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in July 2019.

Sonja Deyoe, Lynette Labinger

Supporting Documents

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Due Process Related Legislation

Animal Abuse Registry (H 5113) Passed House, Voted Down in Senate
Category: 2019    Due Process    

We opposed H 5113, which would have created an “animal abuse registry” similar to the registration requirements already in effect for persons convicted of sex offenses. Like other bills which would impose onerous registration burdens and establish broad community notification requirements, this registry would be costly, undermine rehabilitation of offenders, subject individuals to severe criminal penalties for failing to follow proper registration requirements, and would promote the harassment of ex-offenders seeking to reintegrate into the community. Although national organizations such as the ASPCA and the American Kennel Club also oppose ineffective animal abuse registries, this bill passed on the House floor and recently out of committee in the Senate. Thankfully the Senate ultimately killed the bill, voting it down 22-8.

Seizure of Animals (S 465, H 5433) Passed
Category: 2019    Due Process    

The ACLU expressed concerns about the breadth of this legislation, which allows representatives of the RISPCA, a private organization, to seize animals if they appeared to be “aged,” “disabled,” or “sick,” without any requirement of exigent circumstances. This provision is a significant violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures, and we urged the committee reject the legislation. Despite ACLU objections, the bill passed both the House and the Senate. The ACLU, along with a number of other groups, submitted a veto letter to the Governor, but the bill was unfortunately signed. 

Juvenile Questioning (H 5334, S 496) Passed Senate, Died in House
Category: 2019    Due Process    

It’s no surprise that juveniles are generally less able than adults to understand, and act upon, their legal rights while being questioned, but law enforcement proceeds as if they were well-informed adults with a full grasp of the situation. H 5334 and S 496, introduced on behalf of the ACLU by Representative Rebecca Kislak and Senator William J. Conley, Jr., would have prohibited the questioning of a juvenile suspected of criminal activity without a parent or legal guardian present. A case recently handled by the ACLU, in which an 8-year-old girl was removed from a school bus, transported to the police, interrogated, and detained without her parents knowledge, encapsulates the need for this legislation. S 496 passed on the Senate floor recently, but the House version died in committee. 

Asset Forfeiture (H 5357, H 5721, S 229) Died in Committee
Category: 2019    Due Process    

Rhode Island is only one of 10 states where probable cause is all that is necessary for assets to be confiscated in a civil proceeding, which means that law enforcement in RI can confiscate the property of any person suspected of having committed certain offenses, whether or not that person is ever convicted or even charged with a crime. H 5357H 5721 and S 229, introduced by Representatives Brian Newberry and Moira Walsh and Senator Harold Metts, would have ensured judicial oversight in the process of asset seizure by law enforcement, and would have provided for the ability of Rhode Island residents to retain their belongings without the burdens that a civil forfeiture process places upon them. We testified in support of these important pieces of legislation, but they all died in committee. 

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (H 5167) Died in Committee
Category: 2019    Due Process    

H 5167, opposed by the ACLU, would have allowed Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) to attest to a patients’ mental health condition and participate in certifying patients for mandated outpatient treatment, an action which is presently something that only doctors can do. Although we understand the role that APRNs play in the mental health community, we argued that when it comes to medical recommendations for involuntary treatment, patients are stripped of critical elements of due process when the decision is in the hand of anyone but a physician. This bill died in committee. 

Emergency Commitment of Substance Use Disorder Patients (H 5751) Passed
Category: 2019    Due Process    

Similar to legislation introduced in previous years, H 5751 would have allowed a physician to request a hold on a substance-abusing patient and would have provided a process for a court hearing to determine if emergency commitment would be appropriate for the patient. We argued that although the bill is well-meaning, it  raised massive due process concerns and could be counterproductive to the goal of recovery. After hearing objections from the medical and substance abuse communities, the bill was amended to instead create a special legislative commission to examine the effects of involuntary commitment. This bill passed the House, and we will closely monitor the commission it creates during the next session. 

Driver’s License Fines Reduction (S 78, H 6254) Passed
Category: 2019    Due Process    

Under previous law, drivers had to pay the entirety of their traffic fines or risk the suspension of their driver’s license. This system, in Rhode Island and nationwide, can trap individuals in a cycle of poverty as they struggle to pay their fines and get to work without the ability to legally drive. Sponsored by Senator Frank Lombardi and Representative Grace Diaz, S 78 and H 6254 addresses this serious problem by providing an “ability-to-pay” hearing to authorize payment plans or a reduction in the fines owed before a driver’s license suspension is imposed as punishment. The ACLU testified in strong support of the bill. These bills passed both the House and the Senate and were signed by the Governor. 

Animal Care Service Inspections (H 5297) Died in Committee
Category: 2019    Due Process    

H 5297 would have granted constitutionally problematic powers to both the Department of Environmental Management and the RISPCA. The bill intended to regulate “unlicensed animal care providers” by allowing the DEM and RISPCA the ability to conduct investigations, impose fines, and possibly request search warrants on animal care providers if the organizations receive a (potentially anonymous) complaint about the provider. Because of this, the bill would have violated critical tenets of criminal law, such as the requirement of probable cause. This bill ultimately died in committee.