Criminal Justice Issues The ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News Releases


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Criminal Justice

“Procedural fairness and regularity are of the indispensable essence of liberty… Let it not be overlooked that due process of law is not for the sole benefit of an accused. It is the best insurance for the Government itself against those blunders which leave lasting stains on a system of justice.”

– U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson

The Rhode Island ACLU works to make the promise of fair treatment a reality for all people. All too often, the rights of those involved in the criminal justice system are compromised or ignored.  But the Bill of Rights was designed to ensure that basic procedural protections of fairness should apply to all individuals, including suspects, criminal defendants, and prisoners.

Criminal Justice in the News

  • Nov, 26, 2019: ACLU Court Brief Supports Challenge To Extradition Of Man Likely To Be Tortured If Deported
  • Nov, 25, 2019: ACLU Attorneys Intervene in Contempt Case Against RI Department of Corrections
  • Oct, 25, 2019: Class Action Suit Charges RI Dept of Corrections with “Inhumane” Rights Violations

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Criminal Justice Court Cases

2019: Liberty v. Coyne-Fague
Category: Active Case    Civil Rights    Criminal Justice    Discrimination    Rights of the Disabled    Fair Administration of Justice    

About this Case:
This is a federal class action lawsuit against the R.I. Department of Corrections (RIDOC) alleging multiple constitutional violations of the rights of prisoners with serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) - particularly those placed in solitary confinement.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in October 2019.

Brian Adae; Amy Fettig; Anne Mulready, James Rollins

Supporting Documents
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

Supporting Documents

More Criminal Justice Related Court Cases »

Related Legislation

Animal Teasing (H 6043, S 779) Passed
Category: 2019    Criminal Justice    

The ACLU has issued reports within the last few years documenting the “statehouse to prison pipeline,” the never-ending enactment of laws that unnecessarily creates new crimes and increases sentences for current offenses. Nothing encapsulates this issue better this year than the general assembly’s passage of H 6043 and S 779, which would punish by up to a year in prison any person who “maliciously teases” a police horse or canine. We noted that this legislation could have a significant and adverse effect on adolescent populations and populations with mental health issues. Despite our testimony, the bill was favorably voted on in both the House and the Senate and signed into law. 

Third-Degree Sexual Assault (H 5817A) Passed House, Died in Senate
Category: 2019    Criminal Justice    

This bill would have redefined third-degree sexual assault to include sexual contact between people in “positions of authority” with teenagers who are above the age of consent but who have not yet turned 18. It so expansively and subjectively defined a “position of authority” that we felt the bill could have criminalized some innocent and consensual teenage relationships. The bill ultimately was passed out of the House but was not taken up by the Senate and died.

Bail Reform (S 492, S 602, H 5088, H 6065) Died in Committee
Category: 2019    Criminal Justice    

While wealthier individuals who can post bail are permitted to go home while awaiting their hearings, those without immediate cash flow are forced to stay in jail until their case is heard, creating a wealth-based incarceration system. We testified in favor of S 492S 602, H 5088, and H 6065, introduced by Senator Ana Quezada, Senator Sandra Cano, Representative Jean Philippe Barros, and Representative Anastasia Williams which would have confronted this aspect of the criminal justice system by promoting pretrial release of individuals without the requirement of monetary bail. These bills all died in committee. 

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Gun Bills
Category: 2019    Criminal Justice    

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 in the House, H 5022, H 5703, H 5739, and H 5741, and three bills in the Senate, S 464, S 635, and S 637, 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. These bills all died in committee. 

Although we did not testify on the original bill, the amended version of a bill, S 84 Sub A, included similar mandatory minimum provisions which we voiced concerns about. This bill unfortunately passed on the Senate floor but was never taken up by the House and died. 

House Judiciary committee had approved a bill that would impose a mandatory sentence for any individual who uses a stun gun against a law enforcement officer. Fortunately, this bill was never taken up by the Senate and died as well. 

Indigency Court Costs (H 5196) Died in Committee
Category: 2019    Criminal Justice    

H 5196 was designed to strengthen a law that requires courts to consider a criminal defendant’s ability to pay before assessing exorbitant costs, fines or fees. Bill proponents argued that the current statute is too often honored in the breach. A video of our testimony in support of the legislation can be found here. This bill died in committee.