Settlement Reached with General Treasurer on Crime Victims’ Compensation Suit
Posted: Jul, 16, 2007
In response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU this past December, state General Treasurer Frank Caprio has promulgated revised crime victim compensation regulations that will take effect this week. The revised rules better protect the rights of violent crime victims by repealing provisions adopted by former General Treasurer Paul Tavares that authorized the denial or reduction of compensation to victims based solely on their having an unrelated drug-related criminal history or DUI conviction in their past. As a result of the changes, the ACLU indicated it will be dismissing its lawsuit, filed by RI ACLU volunteer attorney Frederic Marzilli, challenging those provisions on behalf of the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Association of Rhode Island (DATA). DATA and other organizations – including the R.I. Medical Society, the R.I. Council of Community Mental Health Organizations and the R.I. Disability Law Center – had sharply criticized the regulations as “discriminatory and mean-spirited” by singling out offenses often committed by people who are suffering from diseases – alcoholism and drug addiction.
The challenged – and now repealed – regulation provided that if a crime victim had pled nolo or been convicted of “violent felonious criminal conduct, or DUI/DWI, or the illegal manufacture, sale or delivery of a controlled substance, or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance … committed within the past five (5) years or subsequent to his or her injury, the administrator may reduce or deny an award to the applicant.” Drug and DUI convictions were the only non-violent offenses added to the rules by then-General Treasurer Tavares that triggered a possible denial of victim compensation. The ACLU’s lawsuit sought a court order declaring the amended regulation null and void. Shortly after the new General Treasurer took office, negotiations ensued in an attempt to resolve the complaint, leading to this week’s formal adoption of the new regulations.
At the time the suit was filed, the ACLU noted that state law already made compensation available only to victims of very serious offenses, and barred compensation when the behavior of the victim directly or indirectly contributed to his or her injury or death. RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown had noted that “a former drug addict who is sexually assaulted should not have to fear reduced compensation because she once sold drugs to feed her habit.”
DATA is a non-profit membership organization that represents public and private alcohol and drug treatment programs and, among its goals, works to reduce the stigma associated with addictions. DATA executive director Neil A. Corkery today expressed his satisfaction with the results of the deliberations with General Treasurer Caprio and his office, commenting: “The Treasurer’s willingness to listen to the concerns of the coalition members helped establish an atmosphere of trust among all those involved.” Corkery also expressed gratitude that the agreement recognizes that addiction is a disease and that individuals affected by it have restorative potential.