The Wichita City Council will consider a revision to its sign ordinances aimed at reducing the proliferation of temporary signs placed in right-of-ways, mostly at intersections. The city calls this “sign blight.”
Here’s what the proposed ordinance states, in part: “The existence of a temporary sign in the right of way or on public property directing attention to a person is prima facie evidence that such person has caused the placement of such sign in the right of way or on public property.”
The Wikipedia entry for prima facie explains “It is used in modern legal English to signify that on first examination, a matter appears to be self-evident from the facts. In common law jurisdictions, prima facie denotes evidence that — unless rebutted — would be sufficient to prove a particular proposition or fact.”
Law.com says the term means “[a case] which the evidence before trial is sufficient to prove the case unless there is substantial contradictory evidence presented at trial.”
Additional sections of the proposed ordinance extend its reach to “owner or the agent for the owner of that business, product or service” and “promoter of that event or the agent for the promoter.”
In simple terms, this ordinance states that the mere presence of a sign in a prohibited area will be evidence that the person, business, or event promoted on the sign is guilty. While the prosecution still has the burden of proving guilt, this ordinance makes that burden very easy to overcome. I don’t know how someone would defend themselves against this charge. The stakes can be high, with the fine for first violation $50, and subsequent violations fined from $50 to $1,000. The violation, and fine, is per sign.
The ordinance also allows for citizen enforcement of this law. The ordinance exempts “city, county or state government entities” from having to comply with this law, another example of government making rules for everyone to follow but itself.
I wonder: Since this ordinance appears to apply to political campaign signs, do you think that opponents of candidates will place their opponents’ signs in illegal locations, causing the campaign to be fined?
Do you think people might do this to cause business competitors to incur fines?
All it takes is finding a legally-placed sign and moving it across the sidewalk.
It’s hard to believe that the city thinks this ordinance is workable. It’s also possible it is unconstitutional.