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Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Michigan’s Anti-Begging Statute as Unconstitutional
by American Civil Liberties Union
Monday Aug 19th, 2013 12:00 AM
In a victory for free speech, the federal court of appeals ruled unanimously on August 14 that Michigan’s state law criminalizing peaceful panhandling in all public places is unconstitutional.

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – In a victory for free speech, the federal court of appeals ruled unanimously today that Michigan’s state law criminalizing peaceful panhandling in all public places is unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan first filed the lawsuit in September 2011 against the state and the City of Grand Rapids. The City of Grand Rapids had enforced the law 399 times between January 1, 2008 and May 24, 2011.

“This decision reaffirms the principle that our Constitution applies equally to everyone, whether poor or rich,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “Jail time is a harsh price to pay for holding up a sign or simply asking for spare change.”

The ACLU of Michigan argued that the state’s anti-begging law is unconstitutional because peaceful panhandling – like requests for charity by nonprofits, sport teams, or the Salvation Army -- is protected speech under the First Amendment. The appeals court agreed with the ACLU affirming the lower court’s decision, stating:

“Begging, or the soliciting of alms, is a form of solicitation that the First Amendment protects.”

The Court also held that “Michigan’s interest in preventing fraud can be better served by a statute that, instead of directly prohibiting begging, is more narrowly tailored to the specific conduct, such as fraud, that Michigan seeks to prohibit.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Grand Rapids residents who were repeatedly arrested or ticketed by police for violating the state’s blanket ban on begging in public. James Speet receives food stamps, and also collects bottles, cans and scrap metal to survive. Speet has often sought and found odd jobs by holding up a sign in public that read “Need Job, God Bless.” Speet, who was prosecuted multiple times under the unconstitutional state law, was arrested in July 2011 for holding up the sign in Grand Rapids. View the sign that Speet was arrested for holding.

“I see people holding up signs throughout the city advertising restaurants or protesting and they didn’t get arrested or ticketed,” said Speet. “I don’t understand why my sign was any different just because I’m homeless and looking for a job.”

Ernest Sims is a veteran who relies on a $260 disability assistance check and food stamps for survival. When unable to afford his expenses, he asked people for “spare change to help a veteran” on the public streets of Grand Rapids. On July 4, 2011, a Grand Rapids police officer arrested Sims, who was asking for change for bus fare. Sims pleaded guilty and was sentenced to $100 or two days in jail. Video: Watch Sims discuss his arrest and experience with poverty.

This is not the first time the ACLU has raised concerns about anti-begging policies in Michigan. In 2011, the ACLU of Michigan successfully lobbied Royal Oak officials to repeal an unconstitutional ordinance that similarly punished peaceful panhandling on public sidewalks. The ACLU has also urged Birmingham, Taylor, and Lincoln Park to repeal their anti-begging ordinances which, like the state law struck down today, ban all begging in public places.

In addition to Aukerman, Speet and Sims are represented by Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan.
§Lower Court's Decision
by American Civil Liberties Union Monday Aug 19th, 2013 12:00 AM

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§ACLU of Michigan's Complaint
by American Civil Liberties Union Monday Aug 19th, 2013 12:00 AM

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by Robert Norse
Tuesday Aug 27th, 2013 5:19 PM
It's strange that Pleich, the Vice-Chair who posted this, refuses to press the local ACLU to make a public statement opposing Santa Cruz's over-the-top anti-panhandling law, which prohibits peacefully asking for a dime after dark anywhere in town (or holding up a sign to this effect).

To give you some idea of how long the ACLU has been idle, this ordinance was passed in 1994 and expanded in 2002, 2003, 2009, and 2011 with neither opposition nor public protest from this fund-raising group of hypocritical liberals.

Santa Cruz's Ban on Free Speech for Visibly Homeless People Publicly Seeking Aid is MC 9.10. It reads:


For the purposes of this chapter:
(a) “Solicitation” means any verbal request, or any non-verbal request made with a sign, by a person seeking an immediate donation of money, food, cigarettes or items of value. Purchase of an item for an amount far exceeding its value, under circumstances where a reasonable person would understand that the purchase is in substance a donation, is a donation for purposes of this chapter. A person is not soliciting for purposes of this chapter when he or she passively displays a sign or places a collection container on the sidewalk pursuant to which he or she receives monetary offerings in appreciation for his or her original artwork or for entertainment or a street performance he or she provides. This chapter does not apply to peddling and soliciting activity governed by Chapter 5.40.
(b) “Person” means any individual person, group of persons or organizations.

9.10.020 TIME OF SOLICITATION. Any person who solicits after sunset or before sunrise is guilty of an infraction.

9.10.030 PLACE OF SOLICITATION. Any person who solicits in any of the following places, or any person who solicits when the person solicited is in any of the following places, is guilty of an infraction:
(a) At any bus stop;
(b) In any public transportation vehicle or facility;
(c) In any vehicle on the street;
(d) On private property, unless the solicitor has permission from the owner or tenant;
(e) Within fourteen feet of any building other than those buildings referenced in subsection (f). Where any portion of a building is recessed from the public sidewalk, the fourteen feet shall be measured from the point at which the building abuts the sidewalk;
(f) Within fifty feet of any bank building or other financial institution buildings, including their outdoor automatic teller machines;
(g) In the parking lot of any bank, savings and loan, or other financial institution;
(h) Within fifty feet of any ATM machine or cash disbursal machine, or any other outdoor machine or device which disburses or accepts coins or paper currency except parking meters and newspaper vending machines;
(i) Within fourteen feet of any fence that abuts a public sidewalk;
(j) Within fourteen feet of any drinking fountain, public telephone, public bench, public trash compactor, information or directory/map sign, sculpture or artwork displayed on public property, or vending cart;
(k) Within fourteen feet of any street corner or intersection;
(l) Within fourteen feet of any open air dining area or cafe extension; or
(m) Within fourteen feet of any kiosk.

9.10.040 MANNER OF SOLICITATION. Any person who solicits in any of the following manners is guilty of an infraction:
(a) By coming within three feet of the person solicited, until that person has indicated that he or she wishes to make a donation;
(b) By blocking the path of the person solicited, or other pedestrians, along a sidewalk or street;
(c) By following a person who walks away from the solicitor;
(d) By using abusive language as part of the solicitation or following a refusal that is directed at the specific individual or individuals being solicited;
(e) By soliciting in a group of two or more persons;
(f) While under the influence of alcohol or any illegal narcotic or controlled substance; or
(g) By soliciting while in the immediate possession of a dog, by leash or otherwise.

(a) Any person who knowingly makes any false or misleading representation in the course of soliciting a donation is guilty of an infraction. False or misleading representations include, but are not limited to, the following:
(1) Stating that the donation is needed to meet a specific need, when the solicitor already has sufficient funds to meet that need and does not disclose that fact;
(2) Stating that the donation is needed to meet a need which does not exist;
(3) Stating that the solicitor is from out of town and stranded, when that is not true;
(4) Stating that the solicitor is homeless, when he or she is not;
(5) Stating that the solicitor is soliciting on behalf of an organization which does not exist or which has not authorized the solicitor to seek donations on its behalf.
(b) Any person who knowingly solicits a donation stating that the funds are needed for a specific purpose and then spends the funds received for a different purpose is guilty of an infraction.

9.10.060 MISDEMEANOR. Any person who violates one or more of the sections of this chapter twice within a six-month period is guilty of a misdemeanor.

I guess there's a reason that the Board of Directors of the ACLU, made nervous by public criticism of their homelesshate-enabling positions, closed their meetings to the public. (See the story downplayed by indybay at (Local ACLU Again!").

It is monumental hypocrisy to point to ACLU's in other cities who are willing to not just made statements but to initiate lawsuits to mislead the community as to what the local do-nothing Rotkin-dominated ACLU is doing.