You Can't Arrest Homeless Men And Women Sleeping In The Streets, Says A Superior Court

You Can't Arrest Homeless Men And Women Sleeping In The Streets, Says A Superior Court

A widespread ruling that began in Boise, Idaho that has affected all the nooks and crannies of California, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that cities may not punish the homeless for sleeping outside if they do not have access to shelter elsewhere.

The case, Martin versus the city of Boise, dates to 2009 and went before the appeals court last year. The plaintiffs, six homeless or formerly homeless Boise, Idaho residents, alleged that laws prohibiting them from sleeping outdoors within city limits amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and violated their rights under the Eighth Amendment.

Notes from the Ninth Court stated, “In 2014, after this litigation began, the ordinances were amended to prohibit their enforcement against any homeless person on public property on any night when no shelter had an available overnight space.” The judge also notes that, “cases construing substantive limits as to what the government may criminalize are rare,” but concluded that Boise’s policy arrest in retaliation for “public camping” was cruel and unusual because it’s disproportionate to the crime.

In San Francisco, police and city workers often roust encampments of homeless people on streets, sidewalks, and parking lots, although the city usually cites health code violations as the root of these actions. And for those not up-to-date on their constitution, the Eighth Amendment often mentioned in the context of the death penalty, the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, but also mentions “excessive fines” and bail.  The “excessive fines” clause surfaces (among other places) in cases of civil and criminal forfeiture, for example when property is seized during a drug raid.

But the world is watching and SFPD has taken note as the news of the ruling is being heard by one of the world's most excessive homeless populations. It's becoming so cruel and unusual that homeless populations are getting their car impounded by the city—cars often inhabited by homeless are commonly used as shelters. And with our homeless shelters at max capacity, this seems to be the only other alternative. 

// Thoughts on this? How do we solve for homelessness in a city that both criminalizes and perpetuates this "issue"? Art by Anthony Rogers.



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