Is Begging Illegal? Anti-Panhandling Laws Across the Land
Estimates indicate over half a million people in the United States are homeless. And while that figure may be declining, states still struggle to find a solution to homelessness. While some states have extended hate crime protections to the homeless and created mobile "homeless courts" others have enacted anti-panhandling laws to criminalize begging.
So are anti-panhandling statutes legal? And if so, what exactly do they prohibit? Here's a roundup of various anti-panhandling laws:
Circuit Split on Criminal Statutes
Whether begging is illegal may depend on where you live. As it stands now, regional federal courts are split on whether panhandling prohibitions are constitutional:
- The First Circuit, which covers Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, has found that statutes banning median panhandling are unconstitutional, but laws prohibiting "aggressive panhandling" are OK;
- The Fourth Circuit, which covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia ruled that "panhandling and solicitation of charitable contributions are protected speech";
- The Sixth Circuit, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, ruled that begging is protected by the First Amendment;
- The Seventh Circuit, which covering Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, upheld a ban on an oral request for money right now; and
- The Ninth Circuit, which covers the West and West Coast, has held that day laborers have the right to solicit work, but airports can ban solicitation.
Give Aid and Go to Jail
It isn't just panhandlers that are criminalized -- some jurisdictions make it a crime to give donations to the homeless. A Texas chef who has fed the homeless for over a decade was ticketed for feeding the homeless without a permit. And last year two pastors and a 90-year-old man were arrested for feeding homeless people in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Sunshine State, as it turns out, doesn't have a sunny disposition when it comes to good Samaritans -- volunteers in Orlando were also arrested for feeding homeless people in a park.
Even if you're homeless, you still have rights. If you are having difficulty dealing with law enforcement or the legal system, you may have the right to a court-appointed attorney, or you can contact an experienced criminal lawyer in your area.
- Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory)
- Is It Illegal to Be Homeless? (FindLaw Blotter)
- Judge Orders Homeless Man to Get a Job (FindLaw Blotter)
- Is There a First Amendment Right to Beg for Change? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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