Are $2,000 Fines Unconstitutional?

[This post was originally published February 25, 2010, and Hoboken411 holds the same beliefs in 2011 – read on…]

Bait and Switch? Entrapment?

The whole debacle with the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Parade, and the ensuing community outrage, crazy parties, quality of life disruption, along with the ridiculous fines for drinking on the street or “unruly” behavior has been bugging me for a while.

For one, the city is encouraging both residents and visitors to come to Hoboken and celebrate the St. Patrick’s parade. It’s known that St. Patrick and alcohol consumption are synonymous. In other words, they’re promoting a citywide party that involves the imbibing of alcohol (and of course to celebrate the historic tradition of St. Patrick’s Day, our unique parade, associated festivities, and so on.)

The city of Hoboken is also known for the many bars that are packed into the mile square city, and has it’s fair share of booze-related issues each week. However, not to the enormous scale of a synchronized drinking event shared by tens of thousands of individuals on the first Saturday of March.

Encouraging thousands of people to ingest a substance known to cause bad behavior, violence, accidents and even death – but then fining them excessive amounts of money for the mistakes they have a higher statistical chance of making is just plain wrong in my opinion.

What is the purpose of the $2000 fine?

The Hoboken city government will try to tell you to your face that these fines are designed to be a “deterrent” for unacceptable behavior.

But as hard as we try, good judgment or awareness cannot be realistically expected for 100% of the participants – especially since there will be so many of them, including some undesirables, as well as “wet behind the ear” newbies who still have many life lessons to learn.

It’s obvious that the city is raising these fines to compensate for their own budget mismanagement – or to put it more directly – as a direct source of revenue (i.e., a hidden tax).

Two years ago, the city collected over half a million dollars in fines – and city officials must be drooling at the easy opportunity to add more money to city coffers.

Unconstitutional? Punishment fitting the crime?

411 note: If there are any lawyers out there looking for something to do – I’d suggest that a possible class-action suit against the city of Hoboken be considered for current and past fines issued.

The Eight Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

A $2000 fine for walking on the sidewalk with an open can of Budweiser is most certainly an “excessive fine.” Especially considering that the fine for drinking and driving (DUI) – is considerably less – and much more of an offense. So at least we have a precedent or existing law to compare this to.

I’ve said this before – and will say it again: Public humiliation is much more of a deterrent to violating the law than a couple thousand dollar fine. An eight hour community service punishment and publication of the identity of the offending individual would work wonders. Perhaps make them walk (and clean) the sidewalks with bright orange (or green) t-shirts that say “Hoboken St. Patrick’s Parade Offender.” The shame and embarrassment would be enough to make most people think twice before committing that offense again. Showing photos and videos of previous offenders months before the next St. Patrick’s Parade would help going forward.

Any alternatives that make everyone happy?

If the city wants to have a big annual alcohol-infused party, some folks have suggested even relaxing the public drinking and intoxication laws.

  • Similar to how it’s done during Mardi Gras in New Orleans each year. Make a large designated area of Hoboken the “free drunk party zone” (say Washington Street – from Observer to 8th Street). This might help reduce the number of house-parties, bring more people to the city, etc.
  • Another idea is to build large Plexiglas “sobering chambers” where police can hold excessively drunk and problematic revelers for public display until they sober up. But since when is City Hall transparent?
  • Lastly, and the most extreme of all choices – is to eliminate Hoboken’s traditional St. Patrick’s celebration altogether – and celebrate it when everyone else already does – on March 17th. But this would impact the quality of performers and attendees, which would be a huge disappointment for the community.

How do you feel about the “excessive fines?” Or the parade in general?

Here’s a brief news segment from Eyewitness News which talks about the crackdown – but doesn’t go into details on what other remedies can be found to alleviate the problem, or whether the city has a right to levy such ridiculously high fines… like we’re supposed to simply accept them?

Enjoy the day nonetheless!

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106 Comments on "Are $2,000 Fines Unconstitutional?"

5 years 11 months ago

I think the fines are excessive. The $ should go towards renting lots of port-a-potties ala Art & Music Festivals. Then people would hopefully use these rather than our front yards and streets while waiting in bar lines just to pee.

5 years 11 months ago

I have an idea that would DEFINITELY cut down on the bad behavior, round up offenders in a huge fenced in area somewhere in town, maybe line up paddy wagons to transport the offenders to Hudson county jail where they can spend the rest of the weekend thinking about their drunken buffoonery and where it landed them before they can see a judge on Monday morning, I guarantee you 23 year old Brendon from Little Ferry and 22 year old Madison from Glen Rock would think twice about getting drunk and disorderly if they knew a weekend in hudson county… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

Yawn. The fines and signs everywhere are to highlight the seriousness of the problem and warn people what if you break the law you will be punished severely. The majority of people drink responsibly and still manage to have a good time. Those that drink to excess and become a nuisance or a danger to themselves or others can and will be treated harshly. That’s fine by me. I have no problem filling the cities coffers from the pockets of douchebags. Oh, and the idea of turning washington street into a drunken free-for-all is completely retarded. This happened that day… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

The is likely constitutional. Courts recognize that determining what is an “excessive fine” is an inherently imprecise task. As a result, for a fine to violate the Eight Amendment it must be “grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense that it is designed to punish.” US v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S. 321, 322 (1998). To illustrate the point, in Bajakajian, the defendant was transporting $350,000 in cash out of the country to pay a legal debt. The cash was not ill gotten or tainted in any way. Defendant was charged with failure to declare transportation of more than $10,000 in… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

It is pretty messed up that they encourage people to come from out of town to drink and there isn’t a single portapotty to be found.