FJI Takes Cities to Court to Stop Criminalization of Poverty

Last week, FJI attorneys went to court to stop the criminalization of poverty in our communities.  Trials in two separate cases took place last week on whether panhandling ordinances violate the First Amendment, or whether cities can needlessly arrest people for requesting donations.

In McDonald v. Pompano Beach, we originally challenged an ordinance which imposed severe restrictions on requesting donations.  As a result of our lawsuit and advocacy, that ordinance was repealed, stopping dozens of needless arrests. But the replacement ordinance is still problematic—it prevents people from standing on certain medians, or receiving donations from cars stopped at intersections. We believe these provisions are unconstitutional for similar reasons.  

In Messina v. Fort Lauderdale, we originally challenged two ordinances that prohibited requesting donations in many places throughout the City. The judge entered a preliminary injunction, declaring them unconstitutional based on the record at the time.  The City did not defend some of the ordinances, and the judge permanently enjoined them.  The remaining ordinance prohibits receiving anything, including donations, from people in cars stopped at intersections. We believe this provision is unconstitutional for similar reasons.

The ordinances prevent people from asking for donations to help with their survival, do little to address public safety, and needlessly cycle people through the criminal justice system with cruel and counterproductive arrests.

The trials on both cases are to stop cities from criminalizing poverty and homelessness.  The trials were held in the Fort Lauderdale federal courthouse of the Southern District of Florida.

This blog was originally published on October 19, 2022.

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