Federal appeals court strikes down Los Angeles ban on living in motor vehicles

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday struck down [opinion, PDF] a 31-year-old Los Angeles law which prohibits people from living out of their vehicles. Prior to the decision from the federal appeals court, the act of using a vehicle "as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise" was prohibited the city of Los Angeles statute. The statute applied to not only cars and SUV's but also RV's within the greater Los Angeles area. Viewing the statute to be a blatant act of discrimination towards homeless people, a group of individuals filed a suit in the US District Court of Central California. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit viewed the statute as unconstitutional because the conduct it was trying to prohibit criminalizes innocent behavior. Judge Harry Pregerson questioned the legitimacy of the statute in the opinion by exclaiming, "[i]s it impermissible to eat food in a vehicle? Is it illegal to keep a sleeping bag? Canned food? Books? What about speaking on a cellphone? Or staying in the car to get out of the rain?"

The rights of homeless people [JURIST news archive] have been a contentious legal issue recently. In late 2013 a US federal appeals court ruled [JURIST report] that a Michigan law criminalizing begging is unconstitutional because it violates free speech rights. Also last year the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official websites] issued a report which found that ordinances criminalizing homelessness may violate human rights [JURIST report] as well as the Fourth and Eighth Amendments [text]. The report condemned the criminalization of the homeless through various acts of living, such as sleeping or conducting personal hygiene measures in public spaces and suggests alternatives to reduce homelessness and implement preventative measures.

 

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