Limited Rights during Extraordinary Events – A Charlotte City Ordinance

The North Carolina General Statute 160A-174 gives a city by ordinance to “define, prohibit, regulate, or abate acts, omissions, or conditions, detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of it’s citizens and the peace and dignity of the city, and may define and abate nuisances.”

On January 23, 2012, the Charlotte City Council passed a new ordinance that would allow certain events to be considered “extraordinary.” This new ordinance gives the police more powers to control large crowds. The City Manager has the authority to declare any “large-scale special event of national or international significance and/or an event expected to attract a significant number of people to a certain portion of the city” an extraordinary event. City officials tend to declare events where there is a large crowd of people congregating in public spaces.

Some events that tend to be declared, as extraordinary events, are the Panther’s football games, Speed Street, the Fourth of July Celebration, CIAA basketball tournaments, soccer matches, the Thanksgiving Parade, the New Years Eve Celebration, and similar events that draw large crowds. In the past, the City Manager has declared both the Bank of America and Duke Energy annual shareholder meetings as extraordinary events in preparation for large protests.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department analyzes events of concern and sends in a request to the manager’s office. The City Manager makes the decision based on the balance between concerns for public safety and individual’s rights. The goal of this ordinance is to help police control large crowds and keep the peace.

When the ordinance first came into affect, only a few events were declared as extraordinary events. However, more events are being declared every year. This leads to questions of whether the city of Charlotte is abusing their authority. There are currently no court rulings on this to define the number of people that are expected to attend in order to declare an event or how often events are allowed to be declared without outweighing the balance between public safety and our rights.

In an attempt to prevent trouble before it happens, the ordinance includes a long list of items that are restricted within the area of the event. Some of the banned items include items that can cause serious injury to other people and property, items that can be used to resist “the lawful orders” of a law enforcement officer, and anything that can be used to conceal a weapon or dangerous items. Some examples of banned items are chains, wires, lumber, box cutters, ice pick, axe, hammer, crow bar, body armor, spray paint, paint guns, aerosol containers, items that can be used as projectiles or missiles, a police scanner, fireworks, smoke/stink bombs, and animals that aren’t specifically allowed.

You can find the full list of banned items under Chapter 15 of the Charlotte City Code.

In addition, the North Carolina General Statute 14-4 states that those found guilty of violating any ordinance is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and a fine of no more than $500 or $50 unless the ordinance expressly states that the maximum fine is greater than $50. This means if you are found guilty of violating this ordinance, you can be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor and fined up to $50. Any misdemeanors can have an immense affect on your future.

What does this mean to you?

It means that if you find yourself at, around or near an event that has been declared an extraordinary event you may have limited constitutional rights. When going to any events, you should find out if it has been declared as an extraordinary event. If it has, verify that you do not have any of the banned items on you. You should also understand that the police have the right to search you if they suspect you may have any of these items on you. If you are carrying a backpack, duffle bag, satchel, cooler or other item, it is subject to search to verify that there are no concealed weapons or other prohibited items. You should be extra careful when carrying pepper spray, utility knives, and bike chains or avoid the area in question altogether.

If you have been charged and have a legitimate reason for carrying the banned item on you, the city code has a three-step defense that may help you. First, you must be on the way to or from, or are engaged in, an activity where the object was used for a legitimate purpose. Second, you must possess that object for a legitimate purpose. Third, you must not have used or attempted to use the object as a weapon or to injure another person or damage property.

If you have been charged with this or a related offense, please click here and fill out the contact form. Someone will be in touch today. Or give us a call at (704) 714-8888 now.