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

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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.

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

  • May, 18, 2017: Report Shows Lack of Improvement by Department of Human Services In Processing SNAP Benefits
  • May, 04, 2017: Report Shows RI Department of Human Services Still Far Behind in Processing SNAP Benefits
  • May, 02, 2017: ACLU Sues Over Selective Enforcement of Cranston Sign Ordinance

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Due Process Related Court Cases

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 attorney Stephen Hunter, 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 and many hundreds more citywide, which were, and have been, left untouched and not cited.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in May 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
Richard A. Sinapi

Supporting Documents
2016: Gemmell v. Affigne
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Rights of the Poor    Due Process    


About This Case:
A class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU of RI and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) over the state’s ongoing, critical, and widespread failure to timely provide food stamp benefits to needy families due in large part to its transition to a new, and very troubled, computer system. The lawsuit argues that the “systematically inadequate and faulty statewide implementation of a new integrated computer system” designed to determine food stamp eligibility “continues to cause thousands of households to suffer the imminent risk of ongoing hunger as a result of being denied desperately needed assistance to help them feed their families.”

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in December 2016.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
Lynette Labinger

Supporting Documents

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Due Process Related Legislation

Juvenile Interrogation (S 427)
Category: 2017    Due Process    Youth Rights    

Legislation introduced by Senator 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, that 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.

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)
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.

Car Tax
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 recently testified before the House Finance Committee, any bill that addresses this issue is a positive step for due process.

Gun Control
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.