Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Flagstaff panhandling arrests run into legal challenge

The attempt by police in Flagstaff, Arizona, to get panhandlers off the streets early in the day by arresting them has run into a legal challenge.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona has filed suit against the city, contending the state law authorizing the arrests is unconstitutional. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 77-year-old Marlene Baldwin, who was arrested on Feb. 22 after asking an undercover police officer if he could spare $1.25 for bus fare.

"Begging is not a crime," said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda. "To appease local business interests, Flagstaff has sacrificed the fundamental rights of individuals and is throwing people in jail simply for asking for a dollar or two for food. Numerous courts throughout the country have ruled that peacefully asking for a donation in a public area is protected speech under the First Amendment."

Flagstaff officials declined to comment.

The city program, called Operation 40 after the 40-ounce beer bottles popular with street alcoholics, uses a state statute that makes it a crime to "loiter to beg" in all public places, including sidewalks, thoroughfares and parks, at all times during the day or night.

Read the Arizona Daily Sun report here.


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