Saturday, April 15, 2006

Appeals court slaps Los Angeles
over arrests of homeless

Los Angeles' policy of arresting homeless people for sitting, lying or sleeping on public sidewalks as "an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter" violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and punishment, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, decided in favor of six homeless persons, who challenged the city's practice of arresting persons for violating a municipal ordinance, which states that "no person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or public way."

The court ruled that the way in which the city has enforced the ordinance has criminalized "the status of homelessness by making it a crime to be homeless," and thereby violated the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

"The City … apparently believes that [the plaintiffs] can avoid sitting, lying and sleeping for days, weeks, or months at a time to comply with the City's ordinance, as if human beings could remain in perpetual motion. That being an impossibility, by criminalizing, sitting lying, and sleeping, the City is in fact criminalizing [the plaintiffs’] status as homeless individuals," wrote Judge Kim McLane Wardlow. Read the court’s decision here.

Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, hailed the ruling "as the most significant judicial decision involving homelessness in the history of the country. The case stands for the proposition that in America homelessness is not a crime."

Los Angeles' Skid Row has the highest concentration of homeless individuals in the United States with about 11,000 to 12,000 homeless people living in a 50-block area.

Read the Los Angeles Times story here.

Update: Check out the post at LA's homeless blog here.



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