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SUPREME COURT RULINGS

Justices Uphold Trespassing Ban at Public Housing

Supreme Court rejects a free-speech challenge to the Virginia policy. Case centers on barring nontenants in crime-ridden project.

June 17, 2003|David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected a free-speech challenge to a no-trespassing policy at a public housing project in Virginia.

The ruling gives local authorities more control over who comes and goes on the streets outside the government-run projects. It may also encourage public housing officials elsewhere to restrict access to the sidewalks and streets.

Last year, the court unanimously upheld the federal government's strict "one strike and you're out" policy for residents of public housing. Tenants may be evicted if they or their family members are caught once with illegal drugs.

Monday's decision upholds a strict policy that prohibits trespassing for nontenants at a crime-ridden housing project in Richmond, Va.

The ruling says a visitor does not have a 1st Amendment right to enter the area closed to nontenants.

However, the justices did not consider whether visitors have a general constitutional right to walk the streets and sidewalks at a housing project. Nonetheless, the ruling is likely to encourage other cities to adopt similar no-trespass policies in projects that have suffered from violence and drug dealing.

The case was prompted by the 1999 arrest of Kevin Hicks, who was taken into custody as he walked outside a drug-ridden public housing building in Richmond. Hicks had been arrested twice before for trespassing and barred from the complex, where his mother and two children lived.

Hicks, who was not passing out leaflets or doing anything that is classically protected as free speech under the 1st Amendment, told the police officer who arrested him that he was delivering diapers to his child's mother. The officer said he saw no sign of diapers.

Hicks was convicted of trespassing and given a year in jail. But the sentence was suspended. And when lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union appealed on his behalf, the state court voided the no-trespassing policy.

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-- David G. Savage

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