Every day in Rhode Island, police officers are practicing law without a license in both the District Court and the Traffic Tribunal. They do so with the full stamp of approval of the judges before whom they appear, despite the fact that the unauthorized practice of law is a crime in Rhode Island, as it is in every other state in the country. While one can certainly speculate about reasons why this practice has developed, there is nothing in any published decision of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island or in any state statute that appears to permit or justify it. And, although the vast majority of police prosecutors in Rhode Island are dedicated and highly qualified public servants who do their jobs in good faith and to the best of their abilities, the fact remains that it is a highly problematic practice to allow police officers, who are not licensed attorneys, to prosecute criminal and traffic cases. After first explaining the various ways in which police officers routinely engage in the unauthorized practice of law in the District Court and the Traffic Tribunal, the authors explore a few of the many reasons why this unlawful practice is simply bad public policy.
Andrew Horwitz and John R. Grasso, “Police Prosecution in Rhode Island: The Unauthorized Practice of Law,” Rhode Island Bar Journal, 5 (May/June 2006)