ACLU of Rhode Island Sharply Criticizes Proposed Amendment That Would Deny Compensation to Victims of Violent Crimes
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PROVIDENCE, RI–The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today sharply criticized proposed regulations allowing the state to deny compensation to victims of violent crimes solely because the victim had been convicted of, or pled “no contest” to, a DUI offense in the past. The ACLU’s criticism came at a public hearing held by the General Treasurer’s office on the proposed amendment to its crime victim compensation regulations.
“Except in extraordinary circumstances, it should simply be irrelevant whether the victim of a crime has a criminal record that is totally unrelated to the offense leading to the compensation request,” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “It only serves to penalize ex-offenders for their blameless involvement as victims in separate, unrelated criminal acts. This is hardly in keeping with the philosophy underlying the victim compensation law.”
At the public hearing, the ACLU said that compensation for victims is generally available only for very serious offenses, and that numerous limitations on compensation already prevent unjust awards to people with criminal tendencies. For example, the statute explicitly bars compensation when the behavior of the victim directly or indirectly contributed to his or her injury or death. The state’s current regulations also make note of a litany of situations that can be used to reduce or deny compensation because the victim has engaged in “contributory conduct.”
“In light of the restrictions already in place, expansive efforts to reduce or deny compensation based on a victim’s past criminal record unfairly punish innocent victims solely on the basis of their status as ex-offenders. We believe this is fundamentally unfair,” said Brown.
“The specific addition of DUI offenses is particularly inappropriate,” added Brown. “Not only is DUI a non-violent crime, it is not even a felony. Once DUI is added to the regulations as a disqualifying factor, there is no logical stopping point to the inclusion of a wide range of other misdemeanor offenses, as well as non-violent felonies, in the determination of whether a victim should be fairly compensated.”
The ACLU also noted that DUI is often a manifestation of a disease – alcoholism – that requires treatment as much as punishment.
“It seems especially harsh to further punish a person who has been the victim of a violent crime solely because of a past offense that may be directly linked to a disease,” Brown said.
State officials did not indicate when they would make a final decision on the proposed regulation.
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