Federal Appeals Court Refuses to Resurrect Cincinnati Drug Zone Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
September 26, 2002 12:00 am

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CINCINNATI–In affirming a lower court decision to invalidate a Cincinnati drug law, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit today for the first time recognized an individual’s constitutional right to travel freely.

“Today’s ruling means that the city cannot simply banish people from their own homes without trial, on nothing more than the word of a policeman,”” said Scott Greenwood, General Counsel of the ACLU of Ohio, which first challenged the ordinance in a federal lawsuit filed four years ago.

The court’s strongly worded decision in Johnson v. Cincinnati dismisses as unconstitutional a city ordinance that banned persons arrested, but not convicted of a drug offense from traveling to certain locations in their communities known as “”exclusion zones.””

The ordinance, which was first passed in August 1996, allowed police to ban for up to 90 days individuals arrested but not convicted of a drug offense from traveling to certain neighborhoods. Those convicted of an offense could be banned for up to a year. Both categories of offenders faced criminal trespass charges if they returned to the neighborhood.

The ACLU of Ohio challenged the ordinance in federal lawsuit filed in June 1998, on behalf of a homeless man who relied on neighborhood charities for food and shelter, and a grandmother, cut off by the ordinance from babysitting her grandchildren, who was arrested for but never charged with marijuana use.

In January 2000, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott in Cincinnati held that the “”exclusion zone”” ordinance imposed a criminal penalty without judicial oversight, violated the right to travel, and impermissibly burdened constitutionally protected relationships like the right to see family and associates. In a related case decided in October 2001, the Ohio Supreme Court also declared the law unconstitutional under both state and federal law.

Today’s ruling affects the Sixth Circuit jurisdiction of Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

The city may seek further review from the entire Sixth Circuit or the Supreme Court, but neither one of those hearings is guaranteed.

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