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By John Hill October 15, 2012

Brendan Doherty says U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, when he was a state representative, opposed mandatory sentences for people convicted of domestic violence and child abuse

Republican Brendan Doherty, the former superintendent of the state police, has been mining incumbent U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s past votes in the state legislature and his work as a criminal defense lawyer to portray the Democrat as someone unwilling to stand up for the victimized.

One of those charges, made in an Oct. 9 news release, was that, as a state representative in the 1990s, Cicilline was against mandatory sentences for those convicted of domestic violence and child abuse.  

The charge was part of a flurry of political counterpunches Doherty unloaded against Cicilline after the Democratic incumbent linked Republican Doherty to what the Democrats are saying is the Republican Party’s "war on women."

Doherty’s campaign claimed it was hypocritical for Cicilline to make such a charge when he cast votes as a state representative that indicated a lack of support for victims of domestic violence or child abuse.

The Doherty campaign backed up the charge with citations. In 1995, as a state representative from Providence, Cicilline was one of seven House members to vote against a bill that set mandatory minimum sentences for those who were convicted of domestic violence a second time.

In 1996, they said Cicilline also voted against a law that established a 10-year minimum sentence for first-degree child abuse of a child under six. Those sentenced also had to serve at least eight and a half  years before being eligible for parole.

We checked the official record and confirmed that Cicilline voted against both bills.

The 1995 law on domestic violence set a 10-day minimum sentence for a second conviction of misdemeanor domestic assault. The mandatory minimum went up to a year for a third conviction.

It also required anyone sentenced under the law to pay a $25 fee to a state fund that paid for state programs on domestic violence training. It also obligated those sentenced to seek counseling.  

The bill passed the House 83-7 and was signed into law.

The second vote came on a bill that had become known as Brendan’s Law. It was proposed in response to the public outrage over the case of six-week old Brendan Cunha,  who was left blind, deaf and brain-damaged after a brutal beating by his father, Michael Bertrand, in 1993.

Bertrand was given a 10-year prison sentence and 10 years of probation, which meant he was eligible for parole after two years.  In 1998, however, the Parole Board not only denied his request, it voted never to consider a request from him again and ordered he serve the full 10 years.

During the 1996 debate on the bill, Cicilline proposed an amendment that would have allowed a judge to consider an alternative to the 10-year minimum if the judge found "that substantial and compelling circumstances exist" to justify such an action.

The amendment failed on a 60-18 vote and the final bill passed, 77-6, with Cicilline in the minority.

Cicilline campaign spokesman Eric Hyers said Cicilline’s votes were based on his longstanding belief that judges in the courtroom, who have heard the evidence and arguments in a case, are more qualified to determine appropriate sentences.

"He strongly believes that judges, not politicians, not elected officials -- should be making sentencing decisions," Hyers said.

Our ruling

Featured Fact-check

Brendan Doherty’s campaign said David Cicilline voted against a 1995 bill that imposed harsher sentences on those convicted a second time of domestic violence and a 1996 bill that did the same for convicted child abusers.  

The legislative record shows Cicilline did vote against both bills. We rule Doherty’s statement True.

(Get updates from PolitiFactRI on Twitter. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)

Our Sources

Press release: "More evidence that Cicilline failed to combat domestic violence against women and children," Oct. 9, 2012., Doherty campaign.

Providence Journal, "Domestic assault sentencing bill passed," May 26, 1995

State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Journal of the House of Representatives, Thursday May 25, 1995. Pages 5-6.; Tuesday, July 30, 1996. Pages 4-5, 49.

RILIN.state.RI.US, "Chapter 134, 96-H 9312, An Act Relating To Children -- Child Abuse," "Chapter 130, 96-S 2505, An Act Relating to Children," "Chapter 214, 95-S 537A, An Act Relating to Domestic Violence Prevention Act," all accessed Oct. 12, 2012

Interview: Cicilline spokesman Eric Hyers, Oct.12, 2012. 

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Brendan Doherty says U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, when he was a state representative, opposed mandatory sentences for people convicted of domestic violence and child abuse

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