SCOTUS says Homelessness is not a crime! (Kind of.)

Today the United States Supreme Court refused to take up an appeal from the city of Boise Idaho on a statute that made it a crime to sleep on city sidewalks. The Ninth Circuit Court had ruled that prosecuting homeless individuals under the statute violated the eighth amendment of the US Constitution because their situation was an “unavoidable consequence of one’s status or being.”  Thus punishment was unlawfully cruel and unusual simply for being homeless.

This raises the question to us of whether a Marquette resident who is homeless can be incarcerated for trespass on city streets or sidewalks under this ruling? The similarities of these two fact patterns are striking. Michigan charges homeless people for trespass after an officer tells them they must move along. Further, it is not uncommon for Marquette officers to “trespass” someone from all public lands for a year at a time.

Under the Ninth Circuit decision, as long as the local homeless shelters are full, or will not accept the individual, then the charging of criminal “trespass” likely constitutes the city (or state) imposing criminal penalties on homeless residents “for lacking the means to live out the universal and unavoidable consequences of being human.” What comes of this ruling locally remains to be seen.

Please see related articles from the USAToday, CNN, SCOTUS Blog, and the NY Times.