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.

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, 06, 2019: ACLU Settles Suit over Selective Enforcement of Cranston Sign Ordinance
  • Mar, 22, 2019: Wyatt to House ICE Detainees; ACLU Raises Specter of the Death of Jason Ng
  • Mar, 14, 2019: Settlement Reached in Suit Against Woonsocket for Retaliating Against Domestic Violence Agency

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

View All Due Process Related Court Cases »

Due Process Related Legislation

Animal Abuse Registry (H 5113) Passed out of Committee
Category: 2019    Due Process    

We opposed H 5113, which would create 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 Humane Society also oppose ineffective animal abuse registries, this bill recently passed out of House Judiciary and will soon be voted on in the House.

Seizure of Animals (H 5433)
Category: 2019    Due Process    

The ACLU expressed concerns about the breadth of this legislation, which would allow 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.

Juvenile Questioning (H 5334, S 496)
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 prohibit the questioning of a juvenile suspected of criminal activity without a parent or legal guardian present. A case recently handled by the ACLU encapsulates the need for this legislation, when an 8-year-old girl was removed from a school bus, transported to the police, interrogated, and detained without her parents knowing.

Asset Forfeiture (H 5357, H 5721, S 229)
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 ensure judicial oversight in the process of asset seizure by law enforcement, and provide 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.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Gun Bills (H 5022, H 5703, H 5739, H 5741)
Category: 2019    Due Process    

The ACLU has consistently opposed the imposition of mandatory minimum sentencing terms on the grounds that they are ineffective, costly, eliminate individualized consideration of the offender and the circumstances of the offense, and place too much power in the hands of prosecutors instead of neutral judges. Four “gun bills” up for consideration this session, H 5022, H 5703, H 5739, and H 5741, contained provisions which would have imposed such mandatory minimum sentences for new criminal offenses relating to weapons. We testified in opposition to these provisions, arguing that the state should refrain from passing legislation that expands the use of mandatory minimum sentencing procedures.

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

H 5167, opposed by the ACLU, would allow Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) to attest to a patients’ mental health condition and participate in certifying patients for mandated outpatient treatment, 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.

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

Similar to legislation introduced in previous years, H 5751 would allow a physician to request a hold on a substance-abusing patient and provide 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  raises massive due process concerns and could be counterproductive to the goal of recovery.

Driver’s License Fines Reduction (S 78)
Category: 2019    Due Process    

Under current law, drivers must 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, S 78 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. 

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

H 5297 would grant constitutionally problematic powers to both the Department of Environmental Management and the RISPCA. The bill intends 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 violate critical tenets of criminal law, such as the requirement of probable cause.