Menu Close

Civil Means to Criminal Ends


Kathryn Ramsey Mason


June 13, 2024

The divide between the civil and criminal legal systems is one of the most fundamental distinctions in American law. There are laws, however, that do not fit clearly into either category and the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on how to categorize these statutes has been murky. Crime-free rental housing ordinances, which encourage or coerce private landlords into evicting tenants for a single incident of criminal activity that does not need to result in a conviction, are an example of the laws that occupy this middle ground. Local legislatures designate these laws as civil statutes and use them as a means to accomplish one of the same ends as the criminal legal system—the removal of undesirable people from the community—but without the need to comply with the more stringent constitutional rights and protections that criminal defendants are entitled to. Tenants facing eviction under crime-free rental housing ordinances must confront allegations of criminal activity without the protections of the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule, the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, or the expectation that the criminal activity be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This Article argues that, given the severe consequences that individuals and communities suffer as a result of eviction, including the racial justice implications, legislatures and courts should consider designating evictions under crime-free rental housing ordinances as quasi-criminal matters, thereby ensuring better protection of tenants’ constitutional rights.


Kathryn Ramsey Mason, Civil Means to Criminal Ends, 81 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 655 (2024).