If you live in Canton Ohio, it may soon be illegal to let your lawn grow. This story from the Canton Repository details the proposed legislation which expands Canton’s existing high-grass and weeds law by making a second offense a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $250 and up to 30 days in jail. More than 8 inches constitutes high grass or weeds, according to Canton city law. A vacant uncared for house can reduce the value of surrounding homes by thousands of dollars, and also increases the likelihood of health and crime risks in the area.
While the proposed expansion of the high grass law is actually intended to prevent crime and other issues related to unkept properties, this law is a great example of why the trend to make everyone a criminal is dangerous. While Canton’s law might seem reasonable on its face, it is very likely going to end up vicitmizing the very people it seeks to protect.
Canton’s Law Service Director Thomas Bernabei who initiated the review of the existing high grass law says that the expanded law would be pursued “with vigor” which one assumes incudes encouranging law enforcement and prosecutors to seek out and prosecute as many violaters as possible and to make examples out of some of the first violaters prosecuted.
However, as stated in the article, its actually quite difficult to prosecute a corporation for a crime like this. Director Joseph Martuccio admits as much in the Canton Repository article, describing the challenge of following a paper trail to the guilty party. As a result individual law breakers are much more likely to be prosecuted under the proposed ordinance than the corporations that own foreclosed properties. It is much more likely that an individual home owner in Canton would be the first jailed under the proposed law rather than a corprorate officer of a major bank which is neglecting its properties.
Maybe you can’t imagine the Canton city fathers prosecuting and jailing little old ladies for not mowing their grass. Certainly this is all some paranoid ACLU fantasy? The fact is that something very similar to this scenario has already happened in Orem Utah. Earlier this year 70 year old Betty Perry was arrested, handcuffed, and briefly jailed for resisting arrest when a police officer tried to cite her for failing to water her lawn. She was released and settled the case recently after agreeing to a plea bargain in which she paid a $100 fine and received six months of probation.
Perhaps Canton’s city council should consider the effect of criminalizing what is at worst a nuisance but might also be an aesthetic choice. Finally, consider the tragic events in Batavia Ohio about a year ago, in which a 15 year old boy was shot and killed for walking on Charles Martin’s carefully manicured lawn. “He stepped on it and he walked 40 feet through it,” Martin said. “I cared about it. I cut it every five days.” A young boy is dead and Mr. Martin was sentenced to life in prison and is unlikely to ever be parolled. All over a lawn.