May 27, 2008

Narragansett's Loud Party Ordinance Being Challenged

Carroll Andrew Morse

It's difficult to see any way that the town of Narragansett's orange sticker anti-partying ordinance, in its current form, will survive the Constitutional challenge filed by the ACLU. Under the ordinance, police are instructed to affix a notice to a home where they determine a too-loud party is occurring. Penalties will follow any subsequent noise-related calls to houses with stickers attached. According to Mark N. Schieldrop of the South County Independent

If police respond to a house that has a sticker, $300 will be fined for a first offense, $400 for the second and $500 for a third offense – the maximum under state law for misdemeanors. Repeat offenders can face evictions and landlords can be fined.
The legal problem, reported concisely by WLNE-TV's (ABC 6) Robert Goulston, is that…
…there is no hearing or court-process involved before students, including landlords, are fined or ordered to do community service.
In the American system of government, no branch of government is allowed to impose a penalty -- and small as it seems, just the affixing of a sticker on private property is a penalty -- in the absence of a public proceeding where defendants are allowed to call witnesses and present evidence. That is one of the meanings of the right to "due process of law".

Narragansett's loud-party ordinance can probably be made procedurally compliant by 1) creating a hearing process where stickees are allowed to argue their case and 2) having police officers issue summonses to hearings, rather than publicly posting the orange stickers, as the first step in enforcement against violations.