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December 18, 1995


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Thaddeus L. Kowalski, Judge Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Buckley delivered the opinion of the court: Campbell, P.j. and Wolfson, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckley

The Honorable Justice BUCKLEY delivered the opinion of the court:

The City of Chicago (the City) prosecuted defendants for violating section 8-4-015 of the Municipal Code of Chicago, more commonly known as the "gang-loitering ordinance." (Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4-015 (1992).) Defendants moved to dismiss the City's action against them, and on September 29, 1993, the circuit court granted the defendants' motion, finding that the ordinance violated the United States and Illinois Constitutions. The City appeals the circuit court order, and we must affirm.

We base our decision on several grounds, the strongest of which is that this ordinance violates the freedoms of association, assembly and expression secured by the first amendment and article I, section 5, of the Illinois Constitution. The ordinance also suffers from the infirmity of being unconstitutionally vague, thus violating due process rights. Furthermore, we find that the ordinance unconstitutionally criminalizes status and allows arrests without probable cause in violation of the fourth amendment.


Like many other American cities, Chicago is home to criminal street gangs. In 1992, the City held hearings on the subject of gang-related crime. Based on these hearings, the City determined that criminal street-gang activity in Chicago was largely responsible for the increasing murder rate in the City. The City also concluded that the presence of gang members in public places is intimidating to law-abiding citizens. The City recognized that gangs operate by establishing control over identifiable areas, by loitering and intimidating others from entering those areas. However, by ceasing to commit crimes, such as drug dealing and vandalism, when police officers are present, the gang members avoid arrest while maintaining control over their territory. This obvious connection between gang crime and loitering led the City to enact the ordinance at issue here. The gang-loitering ordinance provides in pertinent part:

"(a) Whenever a police officer observes a person whom he reasonably believes to be a criminal street gang member loitering in any public place with one or more other persons, he shall order all such persons to disperse and remove themselves from the area. Any person who does not promptly obey such an order is in violation of this section.

(b) It shall be an affirmative defense to an alleged violation of this section that no person who was observed loitering was in fact a member of a criminal street gang.

(c) As used in this Section:

(1) 'Loiter' means to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose.

(2) 'Criminal street gang' means any ongoing organization, association in fact or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its substantial activities the commission of one or more of the criminal acts enumerated in paragraph (3), and whose members individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.

(5) 'Public place' means the public way and any other location open to the public, whether publicly or privately owned." Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4-015 (1992).

After the ordinance was adopted, the Chicago police department promulgated a general order to define the circumstances under which members of the department are permitted to enforce the ordinance. Authorized officers are directed to order persons loitering in a designated area "to disperse and remove themselves from the area" when there is probable cause to believe that at least one of those persons is a criminal street-gang member. The officers are then directed to arrest and charge "any person who does not promptly obey such an order." The order requires the arresting officer to complete the arrest report for each arrest, which provides specific reasons for a conclusion of probable cause that the arrestee was either a criminal street gang or a person loitering in a group with a gang member. General Order No. 92-4, at 3 (1992).

Probable cause to establish membership is substantiated by the officers' experience and knowledge of the alleged offenders and reliable information such as admission of membership, uses of gang symbols, or identification of reliable informants. (General Order No. 92-4, at 2 (1992).) The district commanders must maintain and update gang information files and ensure that they contain only names of individuals the department has concluded it has probable cause to believe are members of criminal street gangs operating within the district. The order also provides that the criminal street gangs in each area must be identified "on the basis of specific, documented and reliable information," such as officer observations, analysis of crime pattern information, and interviews with witnesses, admitted gang members and reliable informants.

According to the general order, the ordinance may be enforced only in portions of the City where loitering by street gangs has posed a demonstrable problem for the surrounding community. In deciding which areas to designate, district commanders must consult with knowledgeable members of the department and appropriate community groups. They must also use crime pattern information, citizen complaints, police observations, and the views of local public officials and other reliable members of the community.

On June 15, 1993, defendants, James Youkhana, Fernando O. Cota, Jose A. Merced, Roosevelt McMullan, Jr., Johnny R. Newsome, Anthony D. Cordero, Julio M. Barroso, Hermie J. Khamo, Lamont J. Jordan, Lisa Gonzales, and Florentine Soto, were arrested at 1433 West Carmen in Chicago and charged with violating the ordinance. According to the complaints filed against them, the defendants were "observed loitering at 1433 W. Carmen, a public place with one or more persons at least one of whom was member of the Latin Kings criminal street gang, and *** failed to disperse and remove [themselves] from the area when ordered to do so by the [Police] [Officer] R. Day # 4476." Defendants Sabrina Brown, Tasha White, and Renee Goodwill were arrested on June 22, 1993, and charged with violating the ordinance by loitering in the vicinity of 1528 West Morse in Chicago. The arrest ...

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