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

  • Nov, 03, 2018: ACLU Issues Statement on Arrest of Richard Gardner
  • Oct, 22, 2018: ACLU Sues N. Smithfield Police for Placing Resident in Danger by Falsely Labeling Him Unstable
  • Oct, 20, 2018: Groups Respond to Efforts to Remove Ex-Offender from Washington Park

View All Due Process Related News Releases »

Due Process Related Court Cases

2018: Richer v. N. Smithfield Police Department
Category: Active Case    Due Process    Police Practices    Right to Petition & Protest    

About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit on behalf of a North Smithfield resident, challenging the police department’s refusal to remove from its files a note falsely claiming that he is “dangerous,” “psychologically unstable,” and has numerous weapons at his house. Police officials have acknowledged that they have no basis for the claims contained in the note, which was uncovered while the ACLU was litigating another pending lawsuit on behalf of the resident, Jason Richer.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in October 2018.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Thomas W. Lyons, Rhiannon S. Huffman

Supporting Documents
2018: SouthCoast Fair Housing v. Saunders
Category: Active Case    Due Process    Free Speech    Right to Petition & Protest    

About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit on behalf of SouthCoast Fair Housing against the RI Supreme Court over a court rule that is preventing the organization from providing legal help to victims of housing discrimination in RI. As the rule is currently written, non-profit organizations cannot obtain a license to practice law in the state unless they serve only “indigent” clients. This is despite the fact that the Court’s own rules recognize that it is not just the poor, but “sometimes persons who are not poor” who are unable to afford adequate legal assistance.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in September 2018.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Mark W. Freel and Jeffrey Ankrom

Supporting Documents

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Due Process Related Legislation

Animal Abuse (H 8170 as amended, S 2135A) PASSED
Category: 2018    Due Process    

Just a few years ago, the General Assembly granted judges the discretional authority to bar animal abusers from owning animals for a period of years. This year, the General Assembly overwhelmingly approved deeply troubling legislation requiring judges to bar from owning animals not only anyone convicted of "unnecessary cruelty," but any other animal abuse offense. This includes offenses wherein the person did not actively seek to harm an animal, such as shearing of horses in winter, sale of dyed chicks, release of caged animals from a park or zoo, or failure to properly register with the Department of Health when using animals for research. In addition prohibiting these individuals from owning or residing with animals for up to five years, the legislation also makes the second or subsequent of any of these offenses - some of which only carry penalties of a few hundred dollars - felonies punishable by up to six years in prison. The ACLU requested a veto from Governor Raimondo, but the legislation was signed into law in July.

Isolation of Elders and Dependent Adults (H 8352 as amended, S 2421A as amended) VETOED
Category: 2018    Due Process    

Broadly-worded legislation (H 8352 as amended, S 2412A as amended) dealing with the isolation by caretakers of elders and dependent adults sparked concerns from the ACLU and elder advocacy groups. The ACLU testified that while the legislation may have been intended to criminalize unreasonable isolation and alienation from family members, it in fact criminalized actions such as screening a person's phone calls to weed out spam and telemarketers. The legislation was approved by the General Assembly but, in part because of the ACLU's concerns, the Governor vetoed the legislation in July.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN)  (H 7233) DIED
Category: 2018    Due Process    

This legislation, opposed by the ACLU, would allow Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) to attest to a patient’s mental health condition and participate in certifying patients for mandated outpatient treatment, something that only doctors can do presently. While APRNs play a significant role in the mental health community, last year ACLU Board member Heather Burbach argued that recommendations for such a weighty deprivation of liberty should stay in the hands of physicians. The bill was never voted on by the committee. Read our full testimony here

Speed Cameras (H 7760, H 7956, H 7984, H 8005, S 2688) PASSED
Category: 2018    Due Process    

The ACLU supported various bills aimed at repealing or amending 2016 legislation that authorized the installation of speed cameras to issue traffic tickets. Generally, the major purpose of pulling over a vehicle is to address unsafe driving as it occurs. Sending a citation weeks after a driver has already successfully sped through the zone negates that benefit, as well as the ability of police to make a judgment call as to the driver's actions. The ACLU opposed the 2016 legislation on due process and privacy grounds, and noted the technology is more about revenue-raising than public safety. The General Assembly approved legislation by Rep. Robert Craven (H 7956 B as amended) and Sen. Ana Quezada (S 2688 A as amended) allowing the operation of cameras only during the days and times school is actively in session, and requiring signage letting drivers know of the cameras' existence. Read the ACLU's full comments here.

Expulsion of Senator Kettle (S 2490, S 2967) PASSED
Category: 2018    Due Process    

Following the filing of criminal charges against Senator Nicholas Kettle, the RI Senate rushed to hold a vote seeking his expulsion. The State Constitution gives the Senate the power to punish its members, but that power should be exercised with an abundance of caution. The ACLU urged the Senate to slow down the rush to vote in order to very carefully consider the procedures to be used to oust democratically elected members. Senator Kettle resigned before the scheduled hearing on S 2490. Read the ACLU's full letter to the Senate. 

However, just before the end of the legislative session, the Senate introduced another resolution (S 2967) establishing procedures for the "discipline of a member," but addressing only expulsion. Again, the ACLU raised a number of concerns regarding the proposal and urged a slower deliberation of any new procedures, but the Senate quickly approved the rules change.

“Red Flag” Gun Law (H 7688A as amended, S 2492A) PASSED
Category: 2018    Due Process    

In the wake of the tragic shooting of students in Parkland, Florida, the General Assembly introduced so-called “Red Flag” legislation (H 7688S 2492) aimed at removing firearms via an “extreme risk protection order” (ERPO) from individuals who pose a “significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others.” While the ACLU lauds this effort to reduce gun violence, we have serious concerns about the impact on basic due process rights. As well-intentioned as this legislation is, its breadth and its lenient standards for both applying for and granting an ERPO are cause for great concern, which is explained in detail in this 14-page analysis of the legislation. The House and Senate passed amended versions of the bills in May, taking a number of the ACLU's concerns into account, and Governor Raimondo signed them into law in June.

Juvenile Interrogation (S 2430) Passed Senate; Died in House
Category: 2018    Due Process    

Legislation introduced by Senator William Conley (S 2430) required that a minor have a parent or guardian present during questioning by law enforcement. As one of our recent cases shows, juveniles are generally less able to understand their legal rights while being interrogated, yet law enforcement proceeds 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. The legislation passed the Senate in May, but the House never held a hearing.

Traffic Fines (H 7594, S 2433) Passed Senate; Died in House
Category: 2018    Due Process    

Under current law, fined drivers must pay the entirety of the fine or their license to drive is suspended. In Rhode Island and nationwide this requirement can trap people in poverty as they struggle not only to pay fines, but also to get to work once their licenses are suspended for failing to pay. Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jason Knight (H 7594) and Sen. Frank Lombardi (S 2433) would have allowed drivers a hearing to prove their inability to pay traffic fines, and authorized payment plans or reductions in the fines before their license is suspended. In April, ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary committees in support of this legislation. The Senate approved the legislation in May, but it never moved in the House.