April 14, 2006

Homeless arrests in L.A. ruled unconstitutional

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court ruled on
Friday that a Los Angeles city policy of arresting homeless
people found sitting, lying or sleeping in public access areas
is unconstitutional.

A three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
decided 2-1 that the city's ordinance is unlawful under the
Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

The appeal was brought by the American Civil Liberties
Union of Southern California for six homeless people who live
in a neighborhood of Los Angeles called Skid Row.

According to court documents about 12,000 homeless people
live there and it is considered the highest concentration of
homeless in the United States.

The majority ruling, written by Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw
said the city's ordinance is one of the most restrictive on
record, and because of the gap between available shelters and
the number of homeless people, it's enforcement essentially
criminalizes the very act of being homeless.

"Because there is substantial and undisputed evidence that
the number of homeless persons in Los Angeles far exceeds the
number of available shelter beds at all times ... Los Angeles
has encroached upon the Appellants' Eighth Amendment
protections by criminalizing the unavoidable act of sitting,
lying, or sleeping at night while being involuntarily
homeless," she wrote.