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Drug-Exclusion Law Stuck Down

October 17, 2001

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday declared unconstitutional a Cincinnati law that bans convicted drug offenders from certain parts of the city.

The 1996 law created drug-exclusion zones as part of the city’s fight against drug-related crime.

The court, in a 6-1 ruling, said that the law violates the right to travel protected by the U.S. Constitution. The court also said the city cannot impose an additional punishment for an offense under state law.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer said governments are entitled to attack the problem of drug-infested neighborhoods aggressively. But he added: ``When legislation addressing the drug problem infringes certain fundamental rights, however, more than a compelling interest is needed to survive constitutional scrutiny.″

``A person subject to the exclusion ordinance may not enter a drug-exclusion zone to speak with counsel, to visit family, to attend church, to receive emergency medical care, to go to a grocery store, or just stand on a street corner and look at a blue sky,″ Moyer said.

A federal court last year also found the law unconstitutional, and the city stopped enforcing it after that.

Robert Johnstone, Cincinnati’s deputy city solicitor, said the city has not decided on its next step.

The case involved convicted drug offender George Burnett, who was barred for a year from a zone in Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine neighborhood.

Cincinnati’s law was based on one in Portland, Ore. A man banished from Portland’s drug-free zones filed a federal lawsuit last year challenging the law as unconstitutional. The city said it continues to enforce the measure.

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