Saturday, August 29, 2015

West Deptford Municipal Court: Revenue ranked higher than due process of law.

Summons No. 0820-SC-009842, issued on May 30, 2014 by West Deptford (Gloucester County) Patrolman Steven G. Flannery, charged Daniel M. Hollywood with a violation of the Township's nuisance code.  According to the summons, Hollywood allegedly threatened to shoot Flannery during a pedestrian stop.  (Had Hollywood really threatened to shoot Flannery, one would expect that he would have been charged with a more serious crime than a nuisance code violation.  But, this is what the summons says.)

The provision of the nuisance code under which Hollywood was charged is Code Section 112-6(A)(2) which prohibits "any matter, thing, condition or act which is or may become an annoyance, or interfere with the comfort or general well-being of the inhabitants of this municipality."

Language identical to West Deptford's Code Section 112-6(A)(2) was struck down in 2003 by the Appellate Division in State v. Golin, 363 N.J. Super. 474 (App. Div. 2003).  The Appellate Division found that East Windsor's identical version of this code provision "set forth unascertainable standards that encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement . . . [and is] unconstitutionally vague."

Despite having been charged with violating an unconstitutional code provision, Hollywood pled guilty.  The court accepted his guilty plea, despite the unconstitutionality of the underlying charge, and assessed a total of $139 in fines and costs.

One may wonder why, in 2014, West Deptford was still charging people with violating a code provision that was ruled unconstitutional in 2003.  I wonder this myself because I wrote to Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton on April 23, 2012--my letter was copied to West Deptford's mayor and council as well as to its judge and municipal prosecutor--asking him to make West Deptford stop enforcing Code Section 112-6(A)(2).  So everyone's on notice of the problem, but nobody in authority is willing to do anything about it.

This leaves me to conclude that the West Deptford Municipal Court simply doesn't care that it is enforcing an unconstitutional code provision.  Apparently, the court's interest in revenue exceeds its respect for due process of law.  And, that's a shame.