Another Court Rejects Cincinnati "Drug Zones" as Unconstitutional

October 18, 2001 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND– The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today hailed a second victory against unconstitutional “”drug zones”” that exclude people from their own neighborhoods.

In a six-to-one decision, the Ohio Supreme Court held on Oct. 17 that Chapter 755 of the Cincinnati Municipal Code violated the right to intrastate travel under the United States Constitution. The Court also declared the law invalid under the Ohio Constitution, because it allowed the city to impose what in effect is a criminal sentence not authorized under state law.

The ACLU, which succeeded in having the same ordinance declared unconstitutional in federal district court in January 2000, hailed the decision as affirming basic American principles.

“The right to travel, the right to associate with friends and neighbors, the right to be free from arbitrary police punishment, all of these are basic American freedoms,” said Raymond Vasvari, Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio. “The Cincinnati ordinance denied every one of these rights. Today, a second court has joined in condemning that ordinance as unconstitutional.”

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Moyer was sharply critical of the ordinance, noting that “”a person subject to the exclusion ordinance may not enter a drug-exclusion zone to speak with counsel, visit family, attend church, receive emergency medical care, go to the grocery store or just stand on a street corner and look at a blue sky.””

Under the ordinance, police could order residents arrested on certain drug charges out of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood for up to 90 days based solely on the fact of their arrest. Those actually convicted of drug offences could be banished from the neighborhood for a year.

Significantly, the ACLU argued in legal papers, these “”exclusions”” were not a part of any court sentence, and in the case of the 90-day exclusions did not even require a court conviction. Rather, they were simply orders to private citizens, imposed at will by the police, without the involvement of a judge.

The ACLU had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the today’s Ohio Supreme Court action, a case entitled State v. Burnett.

A news release about the U.S. District Court’s rejection of the law last January is online at http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/n012000c.html .

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