Constitutional Nightmare: New Jersey Town Bars Sleeping in Public

The city of Roselle, New Jersey has passed a new law criminalizing the act of sleeping in public. Police Chief Paul Morrison insists that he is only going to use it against homeless people but that may be a statement that city lawyers will come to regret in court.

Faced with citizens objecting that they do not want to be cited for dozing off in a park or at a bus stop, Police Chief Paul Morrison insisted that “this ordinance was amended to help assist the police in addressing the increasing problem of homeless people sleeping on benches.” However, that would indicate that he has an ambiguous law that can be used against anyone of his choosing. The selective enforcement would raise serious constitutional questions. It would seem to trigger review for being void for vagueness since citizens will be unclear when their dozing will be viewed as actionable. In Connally v. General Const. Co, the Court barred laws that are “so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law.”

The law also raises equal protection concerns since the police will be seeing two people sleeping on a beach and enforce the law against the person they perceive as homeless. This law appears designed to give such unstructured discretion and selective prosecution — in violation of constitutional guarantees. Loitering laws have historically raised similar concerns but this law magnifies the problem by isolating a common law which will only be enforced against a certain group of people. It would be like saying anyone can loiter except certain groups. The sheriff’s public statement will likely be featured prominently in any litigation.

Source: CBS

Jonathan Turley

21 thoughts on “Constitutional Nightmare: New Jersey Town Bars Sleeping in Public”

  1. I think they should pass the same law in DC. Then when Justice Thomas dozes off on the bench (it is a public place) he can be arrested.

  2. Back in the late 60’s or early 70’s Austin, Texas passed a city ordinance that only families could have beer in city parks.

    It was aimed at getting hippies who were picnicking in city parks arrested or thrown out of the park. The beer was only the excuse.

    That ordinance lasted about 6 week and went down very quickly in the lowest level appeal.

    I expect the first time the cops drag a little old lady out of the city library for dozing off over her book the ordnance will die a quiet death.

  3. The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.)- Anatole France

  4. There may be more than one way to be asleep. There may also be more than one way to be awake.

    I once had a roommate, in one institution of higher learning, who sleepwalked. Methinks his cerebellum was awake while his cerebrum was asleep.

    I sometimes wonder whether those who design and develop “our justice system” are consciously awake in the cerebrum and consciously asleep in the cerebellum.

    What else can plausibly explain why our justice system sometimes requires what it prohibits, and those who impose prohibited requirements are asleep to the consequences of their required prohibitions?

    If “our justice system” … “brings out the very worst possible result,” then I find that to be utterly good, because, after our justice system has brought out enough of the very worst possible results, a pattern may become manifestly evident, and such a pattern may enable the modeling of directly-observable existence with some semblance of decency.

    Until then, why not enjoy the spectacle of human destructiveness, as it may portend its own demise, in the manner of “hoist to its own petard”? (Apologies to Shakespeare.)

  5. The law was probably passed while a bunch of the elected knuckleheads had already dozed off in the middle of the session…

    The stupid governing the obedient…

    There’s something in the setup of our justice system that brings out the very worst possible result…

  6. “this ordinance was amended to help assist the police in addressing the increasing problem of homeless people sleeping on benches.”

    I can think of about 1500 other, more humane, ways to address the increasing problem of homeless people sleeping on benches.

    New Jersey also has a problem with toilet paper, don’t they?

  7. “eniobob 1, November 17, 2010 at 7:57 am

    In Roselle,Rahway and Linden New Jersey there are quite a few large parks ”

    To clarify these are border towns.

  8. I’d be a lot more impressed if they focused on their local physicians, who sleep-walk through their revolving-door history & physical exams, and then prescribe the latest drug taught them by a cheerleader drug rep with great legs.

    But that’s just me.

  9. They Said They Would Push Me “Off a Cliff” …a letter from Michael Moore

    Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

    WENDELL POTTER: Well, I was a part of the effort. I didn’t—that was part of the reason for hiring APCO and to work with a trade association, is that it relieved me of the responsibility of doing that kind of work. You paid for it to be done by people who were experts in doing that kind of research.

    AMY GOODMAN: But they were doing an investigation into him personally?

    WENDELL POTTER: Well, absolutely. We knew as much about him probably as he knows about himself.

    AMY GOODMAN: About his wife, about his kid, about—

    WENDELL POTTER: Oh, yeah. You know, it’s important to know everything that you might be able to use in some kind of a campaign against someone, to discredit them professionally and often personally.

    AMY GOODMAN: And did you use that?

    WENDELL POTTER: You use it if necessary.

  10. They will only take away my right to crash on that Adirondack chair in my backyard when they pry that PBR from my cold, live hand!

    This raises an interesting contrast though: In Texas, if your lawyer falls asleep it’s not ineffective assistance, but if she does it in New Jersey she’s a criminal.

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  12. My first reaction to the story, before reading the details, was that some judges and jurors might be in for trouble.

  13. I am, it is blatantly obvious to me, exactly the right sort of person who deserves to be subjected to enforcement of every law which denies to me the right to exist, and the dominion of such laws, in my personal view, is immeasurably beyond an unfathomable plethora.

    In 1972, my dad, Rev. Emerson W. Harris, died from surgical complications following a liver resection secondary to metastatic colon carcinoma, the cancer having resulted in substantial measure from a genetic condition now labeled familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

    In 1986, my brother, J. Don Harris, Ph.D., was found to have terminal cancer resulting from FAP, and he died in January of 1987.

    In the summer of 1986, after my brother’s fatal diagnosis, I was found to also have the FAP gene, but no cancer, and I underwent “draconian” surgeries, based on the fantasy that such surgeries might permit me to live long enough to be of some use to my wife’s and my daughter while she was not yet an adult under law.

    There is no way to know whether I would be as alive now without the surgery as I am, and no way to know whether my life would now be better or worse had I not undergone those surgeries. However, I happen to be alive at an age more than twenty years greater than my brother’s age when he died from cancer.

    The surgeries (a bilateral orchiectomy and a total colectomy with ileo-rectal anastomosis) resulted in my being alive long enough to encounter severe intermittent pain at the site of the ileo-rectal anastomosis. This intermittent pain destroyed my ability to work on a scheduled basis in any sort of job for which I deemed myself even slightly qualified, and I joined the ranks of those folks with conventional-employment-destroying forms of physical disability. I aged out of Social Security Disability Income and now am on regular, “old age” Social Security with a modicum of a pension from the years I worked at Cook County Hospital, in Chicago.

    Being alive, being autistic, and not knowing how to quit as an act of conscious will, I persist in being alive because I have not come upon a way to do otherwise yet.

    In my fantasy world, wherein I pretend to be a research scientist doing bioengineering research, I find it useful to attend conferences and meetings and to go to university libraries to read journals I cannot afford to buy .

    My wife and I have an old, in-need-of-repair Pace Arrow motor home, which will suffer massive damage if used in below-freezing weather. Because some conferences happen during the winter, we got a four-season Lance camper and we have an old pickup truck that can carry the camper.

    However, my small Social Security and pension income does not allow me to use the Lance camper and pickup truck for every conference that I find useful in my ongoing work, and therefore, I built a far more fuel efficient RV, using a 1998 Chevrolet Metro four-door sedan. This Chevrolet Metro RV conversion, I named the “PicoCamper.”

    The PicoCamper has a “bathroom,” a kitchen (microwave oven, pantry, and refrigerator), a bedroom (air mattress and mummy sleeping bag), a living room (with TV, Radio, stereo hifi for music, computer system), fluorescent night lighting, electric heat when staying in RV campgrounds, a ventilation system, a ham radio station (both HF and VHF/UHF), GPS navigation, fire extinguisher, smoke, fuel vapor, and carbon monoxide detectors, curtains for privacy, and every single sort of thing one would expect in a recreational vehicle. And I seem to get between 45 and 48 miles per gallon when traveling.

    I sometimes stop driving and park and lie down on the PicoCamper bed in order to get the ileo-rectal anastomosis spams to stop, using a form of biofeedback. It would appear that there are now laws which may effectively take from me any and every form of Americans with Disabilities Act reasonable accommodation.

    Perhaps, if the human species does succeed in its seemingly unrelenting effort to make this planet, and anywhere else we might be able to go, incompatible with human life in every possible form, the universe may be become able to devise an alternative way to create or evolve some form of actually-intelligent life.

    I have stopped in places where other recreational vehicles have stopped for the night, only to find police breaking into my RV because they believe it to be an ordinary car and not just about as fuel-efficient and comfortable an RV as any I have ever heard of or imagined.

    And I do, I really do, trust “the police” to enforce laws against my mere existence, because, if there is anyone who is the sort of person the police are supposed to eradicate, surely I am as good a candidate for police eradication as is ever likely to exist.

    I clearly am the obvious antithesis of people who are decent, upstanding salt-of-the-earth types. Therefore, I am, I guess, as much as anyone can ever be, a proper target for enforcement of every law of the land which demands of me that I not exist.

    For me, personally and subjectively, I find no way to make sense of the current state of human laws other than that human laws, as now extant, proscribe my personal constitution as a living person. I do not meet with a “Constitutional Nightmare,” rather, I seem to be caught up within a “Constitutional Daymare,” for the human predicament is as though more of the human wakeful state than the human sleeping state.

    If “sleeping in public” allows people to be “truthful in public,” and if it is illegal and unlawful to be truthful, then sleeping in public must be banned.

    How about a new law requiring, under penalty of death, that the “well armed Militia” impose summary execution on anyone who dares to be truthful (i.e. who is sleeping in public)?

    When I am around and about, and therefore in public, I am always sleeping. I am never in public when I am not sleeping.

    Perhaps it is reversed, perhaps what is usually thought of as being awake is being asleep to actual reality, and being asleep is being awake to actual reality, in which case, those asleep to actual reality would naturally condemn anyone who dares to actually wake up to the enigma of the human predicament of hatred compounded by hatred. If we cannot dream a way out of the human mess, what hope can ever be tolerated?

    I love the law. I find I have a constitutional (legal) right to interstate travel. However, I find no evidence of any right to intrastate travel. And I can find no way to exercise my constitutional right to interstate travel without having a right to intrastate travel. So, as I observe, because the law requires what it prohibits and prohibits what it requires, I am inextricably a criminal under color of law, and am ineluctably in continuous and unceasing contempt of court. So be it.

    Without the illusory comfort of sarcastically ironic sarcasm, would I dare to take even one more breath?

  14. This is not unlike the various ‘sun down’ laws and loitering laws. You just have to trust the local police to only enforce them against the ‘right’ sorts of people. They are not meant to be used against us decent, upstanding, salt-of-the-earth types if you know what I mean (and I bet you do 😉 )

  15. Good Morning, America! (Oh, and by the way, welcome…)

    As homelessness increases, we certainly don’t want the homeless (or the weary) cluttering up our streets and parks.

    The New Colossus

    By Emma Lazarus, 1883

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips.

    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  16. In Roselle,Rahway and Linden New Jersey there are quite a few large parks which I would imagine is tempting for a homeless person to sleep in.

    But why should a person or family be homeless in America in the first place?

    People complain of being shoeless till they see the person with no feet.

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