Constitutional fight lands in Hoboken court
Citizen receives summons after not providing country of origin
by Ray Smith
Reporter staff writer
Nov 20, 2011 | 9364 views | 5 5 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE – Vesselin Dittrich is still fighting a disorderly conduct in Hoboken’s municipal court for a ticket issued to him in August 2010.
FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE – Vesselin Dittrich is still fighting a disorderly conduct in Hoboken’s municipal court for a ticket issued to him in August 2010.
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Amidst the routine matters that come before the Hoboken municipal court, a constitutionality question is brewing over whether a local man should be punished criminally for refusing to provide a Port Authority police officer with his country of origin.

Vesselin Dittrich, 64, of Hoboken, said he was involved in a conversation in the PATH station in August 2010 with a woman who yelled at him for supposedly looking at her tattoos. The woman summoned a police officer, who told the two to disperse. Dittrich says that the officer said there would be no charges, but asked to take down Dittrich’s information anyway.

Dittrich said he provided information from his driver’s license, but when the officer asked what country he was from, he declined to answer, believing it to be irrelevant and unconstitutional. He says the officer issued him a disorderly conduct ticket for “refusing to provide pedigree information.”

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The case is due back in municipal court on Dec. 13.

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“The police had not accused me of any other crime, offense, or any other wrongdoing,” Dittrich said.

Most people who receive a ticket in Hoboken simply either mail in their fine or appear in front of the municipal court judge and are finished within a month. But Dittrich, a Bulgarian native and American citizen, is still fighting his case, which is set to go to trial in December.

Dittrich is representing himself.

Problems in court

This past Tuesday morning in Hoboken court, after a series of defendants in other cases pleaded guilty for charges such as drinking in public or talking on a cell phone while driving, Dittrich was called to the stand for his trial.

The stack of paperwork in front of the judge was much higher than any other case in court that day. Over a year of Dittrich fighting in the local legal system was about to come to an end.

However, since Dittrich had filed a pre-trial appeal, the judge adjourned the trial until December to give all the parties time to prepare. The pre-trial appeal was merely a protest of the way the case was being handled and was not meant to delay the case any longer. However, the judge hadn’t had time to read the appeal.

In the past, Dittrich faced choices that were unacceptable to him. According to court transcripts from Oct. 13, 2010, the municipal prosecutor offered to downgrade the charge to a municipal ordinance violation if Dittrich pleaded guilty, but the defendant declined, believing the charges should be dismissed.

After Dittrich failed to accept a fine and guilty plea on that date, Hoboken Municipal Prosecutor Ron Venturi told the judge that “if [the court] goes forward and [Dittrich] is convicted I will be requesting of the court that he be incarcerated for a short period of time,” according to court transcripts.

Dittrich faced the option of admitting guilt and paying a small fine or heading to trial and facing possible incarceration. Yet Dittrich chose to continue to fight, believing he was wrongfully accused.

He plans to appeal if he is convicted.

Dittrich said the multiple, unexpected adjournments of the trial by the judge have caused him to miss at least 10 days of work. He works as a translator in Manhattan.

The maximum penalty for disorderly conduct is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

Questioning country of origin

Steve Coleman, a spokesperson for the Port Authority, would not comment specifically on Dittrich’s case last week, since it is currently entangled in litigation.

However, Coleman said in an email statement that sometimes Port Authority police officers do ask someone their country of origin.

“In general, the need for PAPD to ask a suspect for country or origin pedigree information is made on a case by case basis, determined by several factors, including whether there is a language barrier (so we can get an interpreter) or whether we need further information to confirm a person’s identity,” Coleman said.

Dittrich speaks with an eastern European accent.

People being questioned by police do not have to answer questions about where they are originally from, according to the American Civil Liberties Union website. Under State v. Camillo, refusal to provide name, date of birth, and Social Security number to police is not a crime.

A famous legal battle swept through Arizona in 2006 and 2008 over a law requiring immigrants to present paperwork upon request from law enforcement. A law was finally passed in that state in 2010 making it a crime for an alien to be in the state without carrying certain identification documents, and requiring state police to determine a person’s immigration status during a lawful stop if there is suspicion that the person is an illegal immigrant.

Other questions

Dittrich is not new to questioning the government about various matters. The New Jersey state website shows multiple cases in which Dittrich has filed complaints against the Hoboken City Clerk’s Office after he did not receive responses to Open Public Records Act requests about other matters. Some of his legal fights have gone all the way to the state Government Records Council.

On Tuesday, Dittrich brought two witnesses to the trial with him, but said they were invited as “character witnesses.”

One character witness who attended court on Tuesday is Alice Crozier, a founding member of the People for Open Government, a local good government activist group in Hoboken.

“He was a member of POG and has been for four or five years, and he was even being considered for our board,” Crozier said after the case was once again adjourned.

Judging by what she was told about the case, Crozier believes this is “a case that should have never happened.”

The arresting officer was not at the court on Tuesday. The case is being handled by the prosecutor.

The case is due back in municipal court on Dec. 13.

Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com

Comments
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RichL101
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December 04, 2011
Sec. 39.03. OFFICIAL OPPRESSION. (a) A public servant acting under color of his office or employment commits an offense if he:

(1) intentionally subjects another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien that he knows is unlawful;

(2) intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful; or

(3) intentionally subjects another to sexual harassment.

(b) For purposes of this section, a public servant acts under color of his office or employment if he acts or purports to act in an official capacity or takes advantage of such actual or purported capacity.

(c) In this section, "sexual harassment" means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, submission to which is made a term or condition of a person's exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, either explicitly or implicitly.

(d) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
RichL101
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December 04, 2011
Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242

Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law

This statute makes it a crime for any person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived from any person those rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the U.S.

This law further prohibits a person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation or custom to willfully subject or cause to be subjected any person to different punishments, pains, or penalties, than those prescribed for punishment of citizens on account of such person being an alien or by reason of his/her color or race.

Acts under "color of any law" include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the bounds or limits of their lawful authority, but also acts done without and beyond the bounds of their lawful authority; provided that, in order for unlawful acts of any official to be done under "color of any law," the unlawful acts must be done while such official is purporting or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties. This definition includes, in addition to law enforcement officials, individuals such as Mayors, Council persons, Judges, Nursing Home Proprietors, Security Guards, etc., persons who are bound by laws, statutes ordinances, or customs.

Punishment varies from a fine or imprisonment of up to one year, or both, and if bodily injury results or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire shall be fined or imprisoned up to ten years or both, and if death results, or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.
RichL101
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December 04, 2011
Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241

Conspiracy Against Rights

This statute makes it unlawful for two or more persons to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person of any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the United States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same).

It further makes it unlawful for two or more persons to go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another with the intent to prevent or hinder his/her free exercise or enjoyment of any rights so secured.

Punishment varies from a fine or imprisonment of up to ten years, or both; and if death results, or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years, or for life, or may be sentenced to death.

ceanf
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December 04, 2011
i like the part where the prosecutor asks for jail time after the guy declines to accept his generous offer of guilt with a fine. never mind whether a crime took place, or whether it should be prosecuted, or if justice needs to be served. no, the only thing this rat Venturi is looking for is wins, money and petty revenge. i am sure he is one of those 'the law is the law and there is nothing i can do' types, when in fact they can, and often will, do as they please. prosecutors are one of the lowest forms of life on this earth. and this guy definately takes the cake.

however, hoboken is probably one of the most corrupt cities in the country so it does not surprise me. in fact, i would bet that multiple people have their hands in both the prosecutor's and the judge's pocket. so unless this guy has enough time and money to take the case to higher courts, i fear it will not end well for him. they do not appreciate people not respecting their authority, especially immigrants.
RichL101
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December 03, 2011
In my opinion This is a case for ending qualified immunity for prosecutors. A prosecutor drags a person through the courts at tax payer expense, for a crime that does not exist. I will be calling the attorney General of the state of NJ and asking how this is possible. I hope that this man has the FBI charge both the prosecutor and the Judge with using the color of authority to deny this man his constitutional rights. Using the color of authority to deny a American any right is a federal crime. Absolutely disgraceful. The Council who hired these clowns should be held accountable as well. The law firm that employs them should be boycotted.