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Court To Hear Case on Anti-Gang Law

April 20, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today agreed to decide how far cities can go in enacting anti-loitering ordinances aimed at deterring crime by street gangs.

The court said it will hear Chicago’s argument that its ordinance _ thrown out by a lower court _ was a lawful effort to head off drug deals and shootings associated with gangs.

The 1992 Chicago ordinance required police to order any group of people loitering in public to move along if the officer believed at least one was a street gang member.

Those who refused to obey could be arrested and sentenced to up to six months in prison, fined $500 and ordered to perfom 120 hours of community service.

The ordinance was challenged by numerous people who had been arrested, and a state appeals court ruled it unconstitutional in December 1995.

The state court said the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague. It also ruled that the city could not make it ``a crime to be a gang member in a public place.″

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, saying the ordinance was an arbitrary restriction on personal liberty that did not distinguish between innocent and harmful conduct.

``The city cannot empower the police to sweep undesirable persons from the public streets through vague and arbitrary criminal ordinances,″ the state’s top court said.

In the appeal acted on today, the city’s lawyers said there is no constitutional right to loiter.

The gang-related homicide rate fell by 26 percent during 1995 but began rising again the next year after the ordinance was thrown out, said the appeal, which was supported in a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities.

Lawyers for those who challenged the ordinance said it unlawfully restricted people’s freedom of movement. They said the law gives police officers too much discretion to decide what should be considered loitering.

The case is Chicago vs. Morales, 97-1121.

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