This week, the First Appellate Term declared the pre-2007 version of New York City's Parade Permit Law to be unconstitutional. The case is People v. Beck (1st App. Term 1/4/2010).
Various Critical Mass bicyclists were arrested on February 25, 2005, and charged with Disorderly Conduct and Parading Without a Permit. The court upheld the defendants' convictions for Disorderly Conduct (Penal Law § 240.20 [obstruction of vehicular or pedestrian traffic]).
Parading Without a Permit is a violation of the Administrative Code, which requires police permits for "processions" and "parades." These terms are defined in the Rules of the City of New York. At the time, the RCNY defined a "parade or
procession" as "any march, motorcade, caravan, promenade, foot or
bicycle race, or similar event of any kind, upon any public street or
Since the applied to any group of people, no matter the size, the statute was overbroad. While the city has a legitimate interest in crowd control and public safety, the statute "burden[ed] substantially more speech and expressive conduct than [was] necessary to further" these interests. The court went on to hold:
That the City, in practice, may not have required permits for "parades"
and "processions" involving small groups is immaterial; a court cannot
presume that the official responsible for issuing permits will act in
good faith and adhere to standards absent from the face of the permit
law. Relatedly, the permit law under which defendants were
convicted afforded the City, acting through the police commissioner,
unduly broad discretion in determining whether a particular event
required a permit.
In 2007, the statute was amended to require permits only for groups larger than 50 persons or riders. (LC).