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


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Criminal Justice

“Procedural fairness and regularity are of the indispensable essence of liberty… Let it not be overlooked that due process of law is not for the sole benefit of an accused. It is the best insurance for the Government itself against those blunders which leave lasting stains on a system of justice.”

– U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson

The Rhode Island ACLU works to make the promise of fair treatment a reality for all people. All too often, the rights of those involved in the criminal justice system are compromised or ignored.  But the Bill of Rights was designed to ensure that basic procedural protections of fairness should apply to all individuals, including suspects, criminal defendants, and prisoners.

Criminal Justice in the News

  • Oct, 17, 2016: Black Rhode Islanders Almost Three Times More Likely to be Arrested for Drug Possession Than Whites
  • Jul, 13, 2016: ACLU Heralds Passage of Law Restricting Cell Phone Location Tracking
  • Apr, 13, 2016: ACLU Settles Suit Over Cranston Ordinance Barring Roadside Solicitations

View All »

Criminal Justice Court Cases

2012: Gesmondi v. Rhode Island
Category: Criminal Justice    Rights of Ex-Offenders    

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law that makes it a felony for any person required to register as a sex offender to reside within 300 feet of any school.

Cooperating Attorney: Katherine Godin

Supporting Documents
2010: RI NOW v. Wall
Category: Criminal Justice    Open Government    Women's Rights    

Favorably settled open records lawsuit against the Department of Corrections for refusing to disclose its policies relating to the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners.

More Criminal Justice Related Court Cases »

Related Legislation

Unauthorized Computer Access (H 5543, S 592)
Category: 2017    Criminal Justice    

As part of a package of computer crimes legislation put forward by the Attorney General's office, whistleblowers would be treated the same as malicious hackers, subjecting them to felony penalties for gaining "unauthorized access" to a computer.  In February, the ACLU testified before the House (H 5543) Judiciary committee  in opposition to this broadly worded legislation that is based on a federal law has been used to punish people who have engaged in whistleblowing activities.

Good Samaritan - Alcohol Overdose (H 5402, S 170)
Category: 2017    Criminal Justice    

The "Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act of 2016" protects individuals from being prosecuted when they seek medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose or other drug-related medical emergency. This legislation, which has aready been heard in the House (H 5402) and the Senate (S 170) Judiciary committees, would add immunity for those reporting alcohol overdose and alcohol use by minors. The ACLU has been a strong supporter of the Good Samaritan legislation in the General Assembly for many years, and supports this addition to the existing Act.

Blue Lives (H 5260)
Category: 2017    Criminal Justice    

This legislation would enhance the penalties for crimes committed against a police officer by making them “hate crimes.” In February, the ACLU testified in front of the House Judiciary committee stating that treating crimes against police officers as hate crimes devalues the discrimination that truly marginalized communities such as members of the LGBTQ community and people of color have faced for decades.  Similar legislation has been introduced throughout the country in response to the killing of six officers in Dallas in 2016.  However, FBI reports demonstrate that crimes committed against police, regardless of motive, are at an all time low.

Human Trafficking (H 5300, S 73)
Category: 2017    Criminal Justice    

In February the ACLU and the Urban Justice Center testified before the House (H 5300)  and Senate (S 73) Judiciary Committee on a bill that has some laudable provisions designed to address the scourge of human trafficking, but that also had a number of problematic provisions. The bill provides immunity to trafficked minors only if they state in their defense that they were a trafficking victim – a statement many victims are not ready to make when they are arrested. Other parts of the legislation penalize behavior that was not criminal at the time it was conducted, and would also turn soliciting prostitution from a misdemeanor into a felony, imposing extremely harsh penalties on individuals engaged in consensual sexual activity.

Justice Reinvestment Package
Category: 2017    Criminal Justice    

During 2016, the General Assembly seemed poised to pass a number of important bills aimed at improving the criminal justice system. The package of six bills sprang from the Governor's Justice Reinvestment Working Group, and followed nearly a year's worth of work between government officials and community advocates. Each of these bills passed the Senate but, in a disappointing turn of events, the House failed to act on any of the legislation before the end of the 2016 session. In efforts to revive these efforts, early in the 2017 session the package was once again introduced. Among these bills is legislation clarifying the definition of misdemeanor and felony (H 5115, S 0011) and amending the appropriate penalties, adjusting the way probation and parole are done, and establishing a Superior Court diversion program (H 5064, S 0010). Early in February, the Senate once again passed the package of bills, which were referred to the House Judiciary Committee where they are being held for further study.

Juvenile Sentencing (H 5183, S 0237)
Category: 2017    Criminal Justice    

This legislation aims to address the long sentences of juveniles who are charged as adults. As the U.S. Supreme Court has previously noted, adolescence is marked by “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences.” Yet many who commit their crimes as children are viewed as incapable of rehabilitation, and incarcerated long into their adulthood. Under the proposed legislation, juveniles who are sentenced as adults would automatically come before the parole board after fifteen years, regardless of the length of their sentence, giving these young adults the chance to prove their fitness to return to society. The ACLU testified in support of this legislation sponsored by Representative Christopher R. Blazejewski (H 5183) and Senator Harold M. Metts (S 237).