New Jersey Libertarian Party Open Government Advocacy Project: Question regarding enforcement of loitering laws in Camden
The following question was posed to the LP's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project:
What about the "Loitering in a Drug Zone" law in Camden? That has a maximum of 6 months in the county. If you plead guilty they fine you $500. If you fight it, and lose, you get the max. I hired an attorney, and he requested the officer's presence in court, and the officer didn't show up, twice. They had to dismiss it. But the lawyer cost me $500 and I lost two days of work.
Camden doesn't have a local loitering law. Rather, the Camden Police are enforcing the two state laws that prohibit loitering in certain circumstances.
As regular readers know, general loitering ordinances have been illegal in New Jersey since 1979. That's because the Legislature, when it established the uniform criminal code that year, decided that loitering prohibitions too often result in discriminatory enforcement.
But, in 1991, the Legislature made an exception to this general rule by enacting N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2.1, which prohibits loitering for the purpose of illegally using, possessing or selling controlled substances. The full text of that statute is on-line here. Then, in 1997, the Legislature made a second, similar exception by enacting N.J.S.A. 2C:34-1.1, which prohibits loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution. The full text of that statute is on-line here.
Violating either of these prohibitions is a "disorderly persons" offense that carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3 and 2C:43-8.) And, exposure to six months in jail, according to New Jersey courts, is not serious enough to entitle the defendant to a trial by jury. State v. Stern, 197 N.J.Super. 49 (App. Div. 1984). So, a defendant's fate is left to a locally appointed judge.
I ask readers to click on the above links to take a good look at these laws. Readers will find that it is difficult, especially after considering paragraph (d) in either of the laws, to discern with any degree of precision exactly what the state must prove in order to sustain a conviction.
It strikes me that Libertarians ought to visit Camden as a group on a regular basis and "wander, remain or prowl" on the streets while "repeatedly beckoning to or stopping pedestrians or motorists" in order to give them a copy of the United States Constitution. I wonder if we'd be arrested?
John Paff, Chair
New Jersey Libertarian Party
Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project
Somerset, New Jersey
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