Federal Judge Prohibits Ohio Efforts to Banish Citizens From Public Streets

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
January 20, 2000 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND, OH — A federal judge today struck down a local ordinance that banned individuals arrested for drug offenses from walking down public streets in an Ohio neighborhood.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott agreed with the challenge filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and said Chapter 755 of the Cincinnati Municipal Code violated the freedom of association and movement rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and subjected citizens to double jeopardy.

“This decision by Judge Dlott has the effect of telling cities that courts will not tolerate the sweeping of ‘undesirable’ citizens from public areas,” said Scott Greenwood, General Counsel of the ACLU of Ohio, which represented two Cincinnati residents in the successful challenge.

“Too many times, cities pass such laws that unnecessarily infringe upon the rights of others and offend the Bill of Rights,” Greenwood added. “This law was a perfect example of a knee-jerk solution to a much larger problem.”

Chapter 755 effectively banned individuals arrested for various drug offenses from moving and travelling through public streets and sidewalks in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati, regardless of whether or not they were convicted.

The banishment period was 90 days following an arrest for a drug offense, and if convicted, extended to a full year. The city ordinance also said that people found in the area following the banishment were subject to immediate arrest for criminal trespass, an offense that carries a maximum fine of $250 and 90 days in jail.

The Cincinnati City Council passed the ordinance in 1996. In June 1998, ACLU of Ohio volunteer attorneys Bernard Wong and Robert Gutzwiller initially challenged the law on behalf of Patricia Johnson and Michael Au France. Johnson had been arrested for marijuana trafficking but was never indicted. Despite this, she was charged with criminal trespass, a charge later dropped, after being found in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood a few weeks after her arrest.

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