© 2021 MICHIGAN RADIO
91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 91.3 Port Huron 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Criminal Justice & Legal System

Michigan's old law banning panhandling in public found unconstitutional

ernest_sims_ACLU.jpg
ACLU of Michigan
/

Under a decades-old Michigan law, "a person found begging in a public place" is considered a "disorderly person" and can be arrested and prosecuted as such.

Today, a federal appeals court struck down that law saying that begging, panhandling, or asking for money in a public place is protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette argued that the state's law was constitutional because it seeks to protect the public from fraud. Panhandlers are sometimes not who they say they are and often use the money they receive for alcohol or drugs, he argued.

The court said if that is the point of the law, the law should be more specific in that regard:  

Michigan’s interest in preventing fraud can be better served by a statute that, instead of directly prohibiting begging, is more narrowly tailored to the specific conduct, such as fraud, that Michigan seeks to prohibit.

The ACLU of Michigan first brought a suit against the state law in September 2011 on behalf of Grand Rapids residents James Speet and Ernest Sims. The two were "repeatedly arrested or ticketed by police for violating the state’s blanket ban on begging in public," according to the ACLU.

The ACLU published this video of Ernest Sims explaining his position: 

http://youtu.be/smeF6BjWC8k

The case has not been without its bumps and bruises

After a lower court ruled against the panhanding law a year ago, James Speet was arrested the next day for... panhandling.  

Related Content