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ACLU warns against rush to expel Kettle



“The ACLU of Rhode Island appreciates the severity of the allegations that have been leveled against [Senator Nicholas Kettle] in Friday’s indictment. At the same time, we are alarmed at the apparent haste by which the Senate is considering the possibility of seeking his expulsion… under Article VI, Section 7 of the [Rhode Island] State Constitution. Some news reports have indicated that the expulsion vote could take place as early as next week.

“As serious as the criminal charges are, so too is the act of expelling a democratically elected legislator from the seat he earned from the voters of his district.”

So warns a letter from Steve Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island to all the members of the Rhode Island State Senate.

Senator Nicholas Kettle (Republican, District 21, Coventry, Foster Scituate, West Greenwich) was charged Friday. The Providence Journal reports that, “A grand jury indictment unsealed Monday accuses state Senator Nicholas Kettle, a 27-year-old Coventry Republican, of twice coercing a Senate student page to have sex with him in 2011, Kettle’s first year in the General Assembly. The indictment accused Kettle of threatening to injure the page or harm his reputation if he did not comply.”

Both Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) and Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (Republican, District 38, Westerly, Charlestown) have issued statements indicating that they plan to expel Kettle under Article 6, Section 7 of the Rhode Island Constitution, which requires a 2/3rds Senate vote.

“In the absence of clear due process standards, the Senate’s actions in this case will set a precedent that could be used for less principled purposes in the future,” writes ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown in his letter. “The presumption of innocence remains a fundamental component of our criminal justice system, and while the same standard of ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ may not necessarily also apply to a setting like a Senate’s consideration for expelling a member, it is nonetheless worth emphasizing that Senator Kettle has been charged with, not convicted of, these crimes.”

You can read the entire letter here.

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Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.