Federal Judge: Michigan Panhandling Law Violates Constitution

By: Fay Li Email
By: Fay Li Email

A sign in hand or walking the streets hoping to get spare change is a scene all too familiar for former panhander Carl Hullett.

"On good days I was making upwards of $300, $400 a day and in just a matter of hours," Hullett said

Hullet says he never got in trouble for doing it, despite a Michigan statute that makes panhandling in public places a criminal misdemeanor offense.

Just last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit against Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and the City of Grand Rapids on behalf of two Grand Rapids men arrested for begging in public. On Friday, a federal judge ruled the state's panhandling law violates the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.

"It turned out I think the way we thought it might turn out and I'm glad we held our powder dry," said Lansing City Attorney Brig Smith.

Lansing has its own anti-begging ordinance, but Smith says enforcement was never a priority. The city wanted to wait and see how the lawsuit played out.

"We've been I think fairly careful in the City of Lansing not to go as far as some other cities might have gone," Smith said.

Instead of anti-begging, Lansing has turned to its "obstruction of traffic" ordinance. Exactly as it sounds, police can stop public begging if the panhandler is obstructing traffic.

"The obstruction ordinance is different than the begging ordinance I think legally because it targets not content of speech, or viewpoint of speech or even speech at all, but conduct that has nothing to do with speech," Smith said.

As for Hullett, he's no longer on the streets, but still believes that panhandling should be protected speech.

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  • by Anonymous on Aug 29, 2012 at 08:47 AM
    ACLU really needs to look at what they are agreeing to take to court. All over the world it is either against the law to beg, or you have to belong to a licenced organization. Licenced by the government, pay taxes etc. This is just another form of stealing.
  • by Anonymous on Aug 28, 2012 at 11:12 AM
    I agree. I don't want to be accosted by beggars everytime I catch the light at I-96 and M-99, or any other place. It's creepy and paints a negative image of our community. There are resources in our region to help the homeless and unemployed and these folks should utilize those resources.
  • by Anonymous on Aug 28, 2012 at 08:56 AM
    I want to know why panhandling is considered "speech?" It's not like they're out there making some profound point. The only "speech" I see here it "gimme gimme cause I don't want to do any real work..." The other side of it is why are people dumb enough to give them money. If they need help, they can go to food pantries, homeless shelters, etc., and the shelters, food pantries, etc. are where we should be making our donations.
  • by Anonymous on Aug 28, 2012 at 08:22 AM
    Why does this not fall under tax evasion? Free money, and no taxes. It is the same as being paid under the table. They are not a non-profit and protected but are pure profit.
  • by Anonymous on Aug 28, 2012 at 05:12 AM
    What about the rights of the rest of us? You should be able to walk down a street, go into a store, gas station, etc, without being bothered by people asking for money. I know someone who works where they are hiring and she gave one a job application. The response was he made more money standing on the street corner than working a real job. But they have the right to beg.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Aug 28, 2012 at 08:40 AM in reply to
      You just start begging from them, and start running yoru wipers. When you start telling them that they can no longer do that, then you telling people that they no longer can vote.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Aug 29, 2012 at 08:45 AM in reply to
        These people don't vote, they just steal money from people nice enough to want to help someone in need.
  • by john Location: lansing on Aug 28, 2012 at 02:39 AM
    If people would stop giving these people money, they would go away.
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