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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ordinance Prohibiting Homeless from Sleeping in Public Places is Unconstitutional

A federal court of appeals recently found a City ordinance that made it a crime to camp on public and private property to be in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  Martin v. City of Boise, No.15-35845 (9th Cir. Sept. 4, 2018).

A Boise, Idaho ordinance outlawed the use of any streets, sidewalks, parks, or public places for camping as well as occupying, lodging or sleeping in any private or public building without the permission of the owner.  It was later amended to apply only on nights when there were no available beds in local shelters.  After plaintiffs were arrested under the ordinance, all of whom were homeless at the time, they filed a lawsuit claiming that the law was unconstitutional because it criminalized the mere conduct of sitting, lying and sleeping in public. 

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding such conduct to be a universal condition of being human and an unavoidable consequence of being homeless.  The court relied on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Robinson v. California which declared unconstitutional a state statute making it a crime to be addicted to narcotics because it criminalized the status of being an addict, rather than the conduct emanating from the addiction.  Similarly, the Boise ordinance punished individuals for engaging in activities that were unavoidable on nights when there were no other available alternatives due solely to their status as homeless persons.  

While this decision applies only in the Ninth Circuit, it mirrors decisions in other federal district courts and may be instructive as to how the Seventh Circuit might treat challenges to similar municipal ordinances in Illinois, including cases brought under the State’s Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act.

Post Authored by David Warner, Ancel Glink


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