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ACLU challenges Cincinnati trespass law

The Associated Press


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Editor's note: The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on Jan. 21, 2000, that U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott found the ban violated Patricia Johnson's freedom of association and subjected Michael Au France, another person who challenged the Cincinnati policy, to double jeopardy as a second punishment for the same offense. Dlott also said the 1996 ordinance violated the right to travel and “classifies conduct that clearly ought to be legal as criminal trespass.” The city has appealed Dlott's ruling to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI -- A law designed to keep people out of neighborhoods where they have been arrested for drug or prostitution charges is supported by residents of the neighborhoods, said the city's deputy solicitor.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio maintains the law is unconstitutional.

The ACLU sued Friday in U.S. District Court on behalf of a woman banned from a predominately poor neighborhood near downtown where she had been arrested March 18 for marijuana trafficking. Patricia Johnson was banned from the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood March 24.

Johnson was not indicted on the drug charge, but she was charged April 8 with criminal trespass after being accused of violating the exclusion zone, according to the lawsuit. The trespass charge is pending in Municipal Court.

The lawsuit said the ban violated Johnson's constitutional right to travel and associate with others and her rights to freedom of speech, due process and equal protection. The ACLU is asking the law to be found unconstitutional and that Johnson be awarded unspecified damages.

Under the law, people arrested on drug and prostitution charges are banned from the neighborhood for 90 days. If convicted, the ban lasts a year. Ban violators face criminal trespass charges that carry a maximum $250 fine and 90 days in jail.

Deputy Solicitor Karl Kadon said Friday the city made every effort to adopt a law that would withstand constitutional scrutiny.

"If it's not working correctly, we want to fix it," Kadon said.

But he said that, so far, only those who should be restricted are being excluded and neighbors support the changes resulting from the law.

The ACLU disagrees.

"The city is trying to sweep supposedly undesirable people off the streets, and it doesn't matter whether they are innocent or guilty of the alleged actions," ACLU General Counsel Scott Greenwood said. "It's outrageous."