Civil Liberties Group Says County’s Loitering Ordinance UnconstitutionalPrince William County, VA – Lawyers for the ACLU of Virginia today filed papers on behalf of four Latino men who were arrested for loitering while standing on a public sidewalk near their apartment complex in Manassas. The ACLU argues that the charges should be dismissed because the ordinance under which the men are charged is unconstitutionally vague.
“We believe these individuals were targeted because of their ethnicity,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “Unfortunately, the imprecision of the Prince William loitering ordinance gives police the leeway to apply it to almost any circumstance they wish, enabling them to enforce it against disfavored groups.”
“The anti-immigrant policies and resultant anti-immigrant climate that currently exist in Prince William County inevitably give rise to these kinds of abuses,” said Daniel L. Voss, one of the attorneys representing the defendants.
The men were part of a group standing on the sidewalk near a bus stop outside Coverstone Apartments in Manassas on May 5, 2009. They were approached by police officers, who requested identification from each person. Those who were unable to show that they were residents of Coverstone Apartments were charged with trespassing. Those who did demonstrate residency at the apartment complex were charged with loitering.
The Prince William County loitering ordinance makes it unlawful to loiter “under circumstances which justify a reasonable suspicion that such person may be engaged in, or is about to engage in, a crime, or with the purpose of begging.”
“No one should be subject to arrest simply for standing peacefully on a public sidewalk,” Glenberg said. “This ordinance allows police to arrest anyone they deem ‘suspicious,’ without any evidence of actual wrongdoing.”
In 2005, the ACLU successfully represented ten Latino men who were arrested in Woodbridge under the same loitering ordinance. In that case, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed the charges after lawyers filed papers challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance.
The case is set for hearing on September 1, 2009 in Prince William County General District Court. The defendants are represented by Mark R. Voss of Manassas, in addition to Daniel L. Voss and Rebecca Glenberg.
A copy of the motion to dismiss charges can be found online at http://www.acluva.org/docket/pleadings/arias_motiontodismiss.pdf.
Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, (804) 644-8022
Daniel Voss, ACLU Cooperating Attorney, (703)368-1165