In my column today, I note that police in New York City are still arresting people for "public display" of marijuana in circumstances that Commissioner Ray Kelly says make the charge inappropriate. Yesterday a federal judge approved an agreement that settles a class action lawsuit by New Yorkers who were busted on another kind of bogus charge: Long after courts overturned anti-loitering laws on First Amendment grounds, the NYPD continued to arrest people for loitering. The $15 million settlement could mean up to $5,000 for each person who was the victim of an illegal arrest. The legal battles over loitering bans in New York go back three decades:
The settlement came after a federal judge held the city in contempt in 2010 for "obstinance and uncooperativeness," as the police continued for years to make arrests under laws that had been declared unconstitutional. The laws had banned loitering to panhandle or to search for a sex partner, or while in a bus or train station.
Federal and state courts struck down those laws between 1983 and 1993 as violating First Amendment rights, but some 22,000 people were charged with the offenses from 1983 to 2012....
Some of those who were caught in the web of laws that had been declared invalid testified about the frustration of being rounded up when they had not broken the law.
One panhandler described an evening on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens during which officers recited their flawed understanding of the law: "'You can’t be begging.'"...
The lawyers who filed the suit claimed that the police hierarchy was not aggressive enough in training officers and challenging the police culture. They noted that officers often carried "cheat sheets," handed down from one generation of officers to the next, that included simple descriptions of the laws used most often by officers on a beat for summonses and arrests. The sheets, still in use, are seldom updated.
You can begin to understand how it is possible that the NYPD is still arresting people for a bit of pot in their pockets 35 years after the state legislature supposedly decriminalized marijuana possession.