Criminal Justice Court Cases of The ACLU of Rhode Island (RIACLU)


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

Court Cases

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and Criminal Justice Court Cases

The Bill of Rights covers all individuals, including suspects, defendants, offenders and prisoners. All too often, the rights of those involved in the criminal justice system are compromised or ignored.  The Rhode Island ACLU works in the court room to make the promise of fair treatment a reality for all people.

2019: Lombardi and Davis v. Raimondo

Category: Active Case  Civil Rights  Criminal Justice  Due Process  Free Speech  Rights of Ex-Offenders  

About this Case:
This is a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a 110-year-old Rhode Island statute that declares inmates serving life sentences at the ACI to be “dead in all respects” with respect to “all civil rights.”

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in July 2019.

Sonja Deyoe, Lynette Labinger

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2019: Aguasvivas v. Pompeo

Category: Active Case  Criminal Justice  Fair Administration of Justice  Immigration  

About this Case:
This is a “friend of the court” brief filed in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island in an important immigration case in which the federal government is claiming that a person who will likely be tortured if he is extradited back to his home country cannot rely on that fact to prevent his return to that country.

Current Status:
Brief filed in May 2019.

Roberto Gonzalez, Cody Wofsy

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2019: Davis v. RI Department of Corrections

Category: Criminal Justice  Fair Administration of Justice  

About this Case:
This is a class-action lawsuit against the RI Department of Corrections (DOC) claiming that the facility failed to provide adequate heat to at least two cell blocks for more than a month and a half.  The lawsuit argues that the facility’s failure to provide heat during the coldest months of the year has made cells “dangerously cold,” placing prisoners’ health and safety at risk, and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Current Status:
March 2019: Lawsuit voluntarily dismissed by the ACLU following the DOC taking action to restore adequate heat.

Cooperating Attorneys:
Sonja Deyoe, Lynette Labinger

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2017: RIHAP v. Raimondo

Category: Civil Rights  Criminal Justice  Discrimination  Rights of the Disabled  Rights of the Poor  Rights of Ex-Offenders  


About This Case:
This is a case filed in U.S. Distric Court against the State of Rhode Island on behalf of a group of homeless registered sex offenders (RSOs) who, because of a state law, will no longer be allowed to stay at the Harrington Hall homeless shelter in Cranston and will instead be forced back into the streets.

Current Status:
Lawsuit settled in December 2018.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Lynette Labinger, John E. MacDonald


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2015: Ferreira v. Wall

Category: Civil Rights  Criminal Justice  Fair Administration of Justice  

This is a federal lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of a 106-year-old statute that declares inmates serving life sentences at the ACI to be “civilly dead.” The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU volunteer attorney Sonja Deyoe, is on behalf of two ACI inmates and the women who have been barred from marrying them because of the “civil death” law. Rhode Island apparently remains one of only three states that still has on the books a law like this, whose origins date back to ancient English common law.

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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

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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.

2009: Cook v. Wall

Category: Criminal Justice  

A federal lawsuit alleging that correctional officials have engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional harassment against inmate Jason Cook after he publicly criticized Department of Corrections’ mail policies and sought legal assistance from the ACLU. 

Cooperating Attorneys: DeLuca and Weizenbaum, Ltd.

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2008: Qu v. Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation

Category: Criminal Justice  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

On February 9, 2009 the RI ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the family of Hiu Lui (“Jason”) Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese detainee who died last August while in the custody of immigration officials at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls.  Read a brief biography of Hiu Lui Ng.

The lawsuit documented what it called “cruel, inhumane, malicious and sadistic behavior” against Ng, and alleged that more than two dozen defendants, including officials and employees of both the Wyatt facility and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), violated his constitutional rights in myriad ways.

In December of 2012, a federal judge approved a significant financial settlement on behalf of Ng's family.

Cooperating Attorneys: Robert McConnell and Fidelma Fitzpatrick 

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2007: Spratt v. Wall

Category: Church and State  Criminal Justice  Free Speech  Religious Freedom  

Successful appeal of a federal court ruling upholding a warden’s decision to bar an inmate from supervised preaching at religious services even though he had done so for seven years without incident. The appeal argued that the ban violates a federal law guaranteeing religious freedom to institutionalized persons. The appellate court reversed the lower court ruling, and the state subsequently adopted a new policy in accordance with the federal law, and also agreed to pay damages and attorneys’ fees.

Cooperating Attorneys: Lynette Labinger, Carly Iafrate

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2007: Drug and Alcohol Treatment Association of RI v. Tavares

Category: Criminal Justice  Due Process  Rights of Ex-Offenders  

Lawsuit challenging the legality of state regulations that authorize the denial or reduction of compensation to violent crime victims based solely on their having an unrelated drug-related criminal history or DUI conviction in their past. Settlement negotiations ensued, and the new General Treasurer agreed to repeal the challenged regulations.

Cooperating Attorney: Frederic Marzilli.

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2006: United States v. Pho

Category: Criminal Justice  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Fair Administration of Justice  

The ACLU prepared a brief supporting the ability of judges to consider, when sentencing defendants, the discriminatory nature of federal guidelines that treat crack cocaine more severely than powder cocaine.

1976: Palmiagiano v. Noel

Category: Criminal Justice  Religious Freedom  

The Affiliate filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections after a Catholic priest was told he could no longer visit the prison unless he ceased advocating for inmates' rights.