PHOENIX — It’s official: You’re free to beg peacefully for money or food in Arizona without fear of getting busted.

U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake on Friday signed an order that “perpetually enjoined and restrained” state and local police from enforcing the state’s anti-begging law. Wake even required Attorney General Tom Horne to notify all law enforcement agencies of his order.

Friday’s ruling is no surprise.

Officials in the city of Flagstaff, whose practices had brought the law into focus, agreed last month to change its practices. But the nails were hammered into the statute’s coffin when Attorney General Tom Horne, after doing some legal research, agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union that the measure violates First Amendment rights of free speech.

Nothing in Friday’s order bars police from arresting those who are aggressive and assault passers-by. But it specifically directs Flagstaff not to try to get around the order by trumping up other charges against individuals based only on peaceful begging.

Arizona ACLU attorney Dan Pochoda said this was not a simple question of citing beggars.

“Officers in Flagstaff went undercover to entrap people who in fact were asking for food because local businesses had put some pressures, it appears, on the department and Flagstaff officials to clean the street early in the day,” he said. Those charged were actually taken to jail where Pochoda said some were held for two or three days.

He said the purpose was to round up these individuals “before they commit other crimes (though) I’m not sure what those might be.”

Police have admitted the idea is to sweep the streets of transient alcoholics early in the day, before they can cause more problems later. The department even said that Operation 40 as it has been called — both after Interstate 40 that bisects the city and the 40-ounce bottles of beer popular with some — has resulted in an overall decrease in crime.

Pochoda said that practice — and the entire law — clearly is unconstitutional.

“It allowed the criminalization of protected speech, in this case, peaceful begging,” he said. “Courts have regularly found that such a provision is not constitutional on its face.”

And he took a specific slap at Flagstaff for its aggressive use of the statute and practice of taking people into custody.

“We think that the promotion of the interests of the businesses over the rights of individuals was intolerable and clearly unconstitutional,” Pochoda said.

(7) comments

Matthew Quigley

Flagstaff residents can keep the begging to a minimum. Begging should be met with a stern rebuke and a zero tolerance attitude. The ACLU ruling does not apply to citizens who exercise their own free speech rights. The overwhelming majority of pan handlers are street drunks begging you for money to support their addiction. Don't be an enabler. Don't become a part of the problem. The citizens of Flagstaff have the ability to dramatically reduce this problem.

AGW

I agree completely. I've been homeless in Arizona. I know what it's like to be seemingly out of options. But rather than stand on a corner and beg for someone else's hard earned money, I sought assistance from the state. And when I found work, I happily told the state I no longer needed their help. That was 12 years ago. Free speech? Really? Seems to me that rather than come up with a real solution for these people, the legal system has simply pawned them off onto us hard working citizens.

clifffalling
clifffalling

It would be nice to get rid of the truckers pretending to be homeless, on their rest periods, over on butler at little America.

Jrickles

"The ACLU ruling does not apply to citizens who exercise their own free speech rights"
Yeah, it does, actually. Citizens are anyone residing in the USA with documented ability to reside here.
Love how people act so wronged...oh, the poor leisure class is inconvenienced...shucks...Gee, I've heard that before....hmm...2nd Amendment, anyone? Enable? People will always find a way. And lumping all panhandlers together is just ignorant- buskers and other panhandlers aren't always trying to get alcohol

Maunawili

Well Matthew, as I usually have the ability to dramatically reduce some unfortunate person's suffering, I will continue to do so by offering a few bucks to those who ask.

Matthew Quigley

Maunawili: There's a difference between having compassion for "some unfortunate person's suffering" and enabling an addiction.

Khanghi

Maunawili Wow! Please tell me how you "dramatically reduced some unfortunate persons suffering...by offering a few bucks to those who ask". Many has been the time I've offered far more than a few bucks to someone who "needed" it. Unfortunately, they didn't "need" it badly enough to split a little firewood or work around the Ranch. Jrickles, busking is a little different. They ARE working by entertaining. If I like what they're throwin' down, I'll pitch in.

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