“Civil Death” - Legislation ACLU of Rhode Island is Working On

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Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

Legislation

“Civil Death”

Category: 2007  Criminal Justice  

One court has called “civil death” laws “an outdated and inscrutable common law precept” and “a medieval fiction in a modern world,” but Rhode Island is one of only four states to still have such a law. As a result of an illconceived Gubernatorial veto, it will remain so for at least another year. The law, enacted in 1909, declares people sentenced to life imprisonment to be “dead” for virtually all legal purposes, including those relating to matrimony and holding property, even though most are eligible for parole after 20 years. Rep. Edith Ajello introduced a bill repealing the statute at the ACLU’s request, after hearing from the fiancée of an ACI inmate serving a life sentence whose effort to obtain a marriage license was rebuffed because of the law. In vetoing the measure, the governor called that objective “insufficient reason to pass legislation,” and that “the loss of property, and even the right to marry, is not unreasonable” for those serving life sentences. In light of the veto, the ACLU expects to file a legal challenge to the law’s constitutionality.