Saturday, April 15, 2006

Decriminalizing homelessness

The 9th Circuit has ruled that the city of LA cannot arrest a homeless person for sleeping in the street until they have proven that there is a bed available for every homeless person in the city.
The Eighth Amendment, which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments," bars punishment of "involuntary sitting, lying or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles," said a divided panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
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The decision was based on 1960s-vintage U.S. Supreme Court decisions barring punishment of alcoholics and drug addicts on the basis of their addiction.

In a dissent, 9th Circuit Judge Pamela Rymer, also of Pasadena, said the high court's decisions were applicable only to crimes of status and not crimes of conduct.

Los Angeles doesn't punish people "simply because they are homeless" but because they sit, lie or sleep on city sidewalks, conduct "that can be committed by those with homes as well as those without," Rymer wrote.

She said "neither the Supreme Court nor any other circuit court of appeals has ever held that conduct derivative of a status may not be criminalized."

The 9th Circuit majority, however, found conduct and status inseparable in the Los Angeles case, "given that human beings are biologically compelled to rest."

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