Rule Restricting R.I. Crime Victim Compensation Challenged

January 2, 2007

An association of drug treatment programs is challenging a Rhode Island state policy that allows financial compensation to be denied to crime victims who have been convicted of driving drunk or dealing drugs.

The Drug and Alcohol Treatment Association of Rhode Island last week sued the state general treasurer’s office over the rules, which apply to a state program that compensates people who have been victims of violent crimes.

Program regulations say that compensation may be reduced or denied to crime victims who have been convicted or pleaded no contest either to drunken driving, or selling or manufacturing drugs or possessing them with the intent to deliver.

The regulations apply to within five years of the date of injury, a spokeswoman for the treasurer’s office said.

“We can’t conceive of any legitimate rationale for these regulations,” said Steven Brown, the executive director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the complaint in Superior Court on DATA’s behalf.

But Stephanie DeSilva, a spokeswoman for the treasurer’s office, said the program administrator has discretion over whether to approve or deny compensation, and considers factors other than an applicant’s criminal history in evaluating a claim.

“It’s not an automatic denial,” DeSilva said. “There are other things taken into account.”

She also said the provisions were not targeted at low-level drug offenders.

“This is the hardcore drug dealer that we’re looking at,” she said.

Even so, Brown said it was illogical to deny compensation to crime victims based on a nonviolent criminal offense.

He said there were safeguards in place, such as denying compensation to those whose behavior contributed to their injury or death, to prevent the system from being abused.

The lawsuit says the regulations may deter crime victims who are dealing with substance abuse from applying for compensation. It names outgoing general treasurer Paul Tavares as a defendant and seeks to have the provisions voided and unenforceable.

The fund is intended to provide financial support to those injured in a violent crime or immediate family members of homicide victims. The money can be used to cover medical expenses, counseling and other out-of-pocket costs but does not apply to pain and suffering.

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