A California First District Court of Appeal decision released on Monday ruled that a ban against four drug dealers from a 50-block area of the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods is illegal, upholding earlier rulings on the matter.
The case, The People v. Padilla-Martel, stemmed from an action by former San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and the City of San Francisco two years ago. In 2020, authorities had a hard time culling rampant drug use in the Tenderloin area of the city. Needing a new way to keep out a few dozen drug dealers who were responsible for a large percentage of drug dealing in the area, Herrera sued 28 of them that September from entering a 50-block area of the city. As most had several drug dealing priors, and all but one living outside the city, the city thought it had a strong case for public safety. The Tenderloin still is an epicenter of drug dealing and overdose deaths in the city.
However, the matter was quickly challenged by the dealers as violating their constitutional right to travel and not having a local or state law to back the widespread ban. In May 2021, the San Francisco Superior Court ruled it unconstitutional. The city quickly appealed the ruling, where it was soon heard again in the California First District Court of Appeal.
This led to a 3-0 ruling issued on Friday and released on Monday by the Court, in which it upheld the Superior Court ruling and said that while stay-away orders were usually legal in some circumstances in small areas, a broad 50-block ban for dozens of people was simply unconstitutional.
“We are mindful of, and sympathetic to, the challenges faced by the city in addressing the issues of illegal drug sales, drug use, and the drug-related health crisis and its effects on the people who live and work in the neighborhood,” Justice Marla Miller said in the court’s ruling. ” Although the city contends these defendants have no reason to ever even be in the 50-square-block Tenderloin neighborhood except to sell drugs there was evidence that many community resources and government agencies are located in the Tenderloin.”
“The court finds it credible that the suspects were interested in taking advantage of the employment, treatment, housing, and health services available in the 50-square-block neighborhood. The SFPD declarations did not show that any of the defendants has been convicted of selling drugs, possessing drugs for sale, or violating any pretrial stay-away orders.”
Reaction to the ruling
The ruling led to a generally negative reaction in San Francisco on Monday and Tuesday. A spokesman for current San Francisco Attorney David Chiu said that the office was disappointed by the ruling. Others were worried what this would mean for crime in the city.
“Right now we’re still in [San Francisco District Attorney] Chesa Boudin’s San Francisco, where most of these guys get off anyway,” one San Francisco police officer said to the Globe on condition of anonymity on Tuesday. “Now we can’t even keep these guys away. Drug dealers certainly are taking advantage of the Tenderloin, but you can bet it’s not for treatment or housing services or anything else the court listed. Well, except employment, but you have to sell drugs somewhere.”
“I’m not a lawyer, so maybe it did violate their right to travel or whatever, but these people are hurting people and making the lives of residents worse. We arrest them, they’re out soon enough. We try and force them out, court puts them back in. People try and clean up the area, and you have their cars and homes broken into. The judges obviously never had to respond to a call at 2 A.M. to find another person dead because of an overdose and then pass by on the way to the morgue a known dealer. We have to uphold the law, but let me tell you, it can be trying some days.”
“This is the San Francisco we have now in the Tenderloin. And these judges just stopped one of the few things left we can do to try and bring it back.”
As of Tuesday, the San Francisco City Attorney’s office is deciding whether or not to appeal the case to a higher court.