A 22-year-old Absecon woman will get back about $100 for a fine she paid last year for loitering in Somers Point.
The court agreed to refund most of the $139 she paid after finding the complaint code to be obsolete, said John Paff, a member of the New Jersey Libertarian Party.
The complaint cited a 1973 ordinance and said the woman was “causing annoyance and alarm by loitering in the area of Route 52 and Route 559 while highly intoxicated” in December 2011, Paff said.
But Somers Point repealed the ordinance in 1991, he said. City records indicate the ordinance, No. 3 of 1973, was not included in the recodification in 1991, but has remained on the list of local offenses with both the Police Department and courts for the past 20 years.
“Some municipalities don’t realize it. Some (others) use it for easy money,” Paff said.
He discovered the issue in Somers Point on a whim, while driving through the area. He said it joins at least 30 other municipalities in the state that have been found with a similar issue in the past six or seven years.
The Pre-empted Ordinance Repeal Project aims to find out which municipalities continue to be out of compliance with the state law by using obsolete ordinances. The ordinances are obsolete due to the creation of the New Jersey Criminal Code, also known as Title 2C, in 1979 which did not include loitering as a criminal offense.
“It was found that cops could use it to harass individuals, and since it was subject to abuse by law enforcement, they took it out,” Paff said.
In addition, the downgraded offense does not create a criminal record the way a charge of criminal mischief does, he said, which is why some municipalities may have stuck to the old code. It becomes an opportunity to collect the fines without harming people’s reputations or future employment opportunities.
Situations such as this are more common than they should be, he said.
“I figured this out, and I don’t even live there,” said Paff, of Somerset County. He noted, however, that the city agreed to delete the loitering charge from the local offense list.
“It is my understanding that she, the solicitor and Police Department have been working in concert to ensure that not only is this offense no longer used, but that in the future all parties are properly notified upon the repeal of any local ordinance,” said Tina Lalena, Municipal Division Manager in Atlantic County Superior Court, in an email. “Judge Howard Freed has reversed the decision, and the Court Administrator has refunded the $100 paid by the defendant.”
The woman’s summons shows a $106 fine and $33 court costs. She could not be reached for comment Friday.
Calls to the police department were not returned.
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