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Students face fines, arrest under amended D.C. law
Noise violators can now incur up to 90 days in jail or $500 in fines under a newly amended disorderly conduct law.
The amendment, which unanimously passed last November by the D.C. Council, took effect on Tuesday, outlawing any “unreasonabl[y] loud noise between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. that is likely to disturb one or more persons in their residences.”
In response, Dr. Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs, emailed the student body Wednesday night, warning, “[This law] may have particular implications for university students throughout the District of Columbia, especially related to noise and conduct off campus.”
“Officers may make an arrest when, in the officer’s judgment, the officer has observed ‘noise that is likely to create a disturbance of the peace,’” he wrote, citing a local Metropolitan Police Department district commander.
However, according to MPD Lieutenant John Hedgecock, “the breach of peace does not have to occur,” meaning officers do not need to receive a complaint to cite offenders.
The Disorderly Conduct Amendment Act of 2010, which was introduced by Councilmember Phil Mendelson in Jul. 2009 and passed unanimously in Nov. 2010, replaced a 58 year-old “nighttime noise prohibition” which courts have called “vague and ambiguous … [and] improperly infringe[s] on citizens’ First Amendment Rights,” according to a Disorderly Conduct Arrest Project Subcommittee report.
“We increasingly heard complaints that our law was ambiguous and needed to be clarified and also modernized,” Mendelson said in an interview with the Voice.
Mendelson added that this provision is not a new law but a clarification of the old version, which he claimed was confusing and easily misunderstood. The former nighttime noise prohibition, specifically the vague “intent to provoke a breach of peace” clause, was used to justify arrests for “contempt of cops,” he argued.
At Monday’s ANC meeting, those in attendance asked about the distinction between the DCA Act and 61-D noise violations, which enable police officers to place an arrest on someone’s record without the physical arrest.
According to Gwendolyn Crump, MPD director of communications, a 61-D is a type of arrest process in the field. It replaces taking an individual into custody.
By contrast, a violation of the DCA Act could incur time in jail or fines, which were increased from the 1953 law.
According to the committee report, there is no filed objection to the “nighttime noise” provision, which was ruled permissible by courts on the basis that speech can be offensive by nature of its excessive loudness. Neither the American Civil Liberties Union nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who both filed extensive commentaries on the revision, found problem with the DCA Act. Furthermore, many who live in residential neighborhoods support the law.
“[Councilmember Jack] Evans supports the Bill because it gives MPD additional tools to address quality of life issues in mixed-use areas of the city,” Andrew Hines, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evan’s director of communications, wrote in an email. “We know that this is a big issue is Ward 2 and heard from many that they support it.”
Mendelson said that no neighborhood lobbied for the rewrite.