FJI Sues Miami to End Anti-Panhandling Ordinance

December 19, 2023

MIAMI— FJI has filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami challenging a City Ordinance that prohibits requesting donations in large portions of the City, including most of the downtown area. Failure to comply is punishable by up to 30 days in jail. In the last year, nearly a dozen homeless people have been arrested or cited for violating this ordinance. Because solicitation of donations is protected speech, the suit seeks an immediate declaration that the law violates the First Amendment.

This same ordinance was previously declared unconstitutional by a state court in a 2017 criminal prosecution, in a case entitled State v. Toombs. Despite this Court order, the City has resumed arresting people for panhandling.

The Plaintiff is Willie White, a long-time Miami resident who is experiencing homelessness. He peacefully requests donations from pedestrians and drivers to help with his survival, but has been arrested twice under the Ordinance.

“Requesting donations is speech protected by the First Amendment,” said Ray Taseff, lead attorney with FJI. “The City cannot single out panhandling for differential treatment because it deems that speech unpleasant.”

The ordinance singles out panhandling, solicitation, and begging; all other forms of speech are permitted. For example, the ordinance allows a church member to solicit support for a religious cause, a candidate for public office to ask for votes in an upcoming election, a political activist to advocate for a different climate change policy, or a tourist to ask for directions.

“A criminal justice response to this issue is a counterproductive strategy that only serves to criminalize poverty,” said Dante P. Trevisani, FJI’s Legal Director. “The City should focus on more constructive solutions.”

This lawsuit is part of FJI’s effort to end the criminalization of poverty in the state of Florida. The attorneys have also filed similar successful lawsuits against Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Hollywood, Palm Beach County, and West Palm Beach.

The case is White v. City of Miami, Case No. 23-CV-24783 in the Southern District of Florida. For more information, contact Ray Taseff,, 305-586-4502.

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