Despite the courts being clear that it is unconstitutional to prohibit panhandling on a public sidewalk, a number of municipalities continue to enforce local anti-begging ordinances. In October 2013 the ACLU sent letters to 84 municipalities across the state notifying them that, in light of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, their anti-begging ordinances are unconstitutional and should be repealed.
In Waterford Township, Tiffany Cuthrell and her boyfriend were hoping to visit family out of state, but they were short on funds, so Tiffany stood on a sidewalk with a sign that said “In Love, Out of Gas,” while her boyfriend played guitar.
Although soliciting donations has long been recognized as a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, a police officer ticketed Tiffany and charged her with a crime for “begging in public.”
The ACLU of Michigan, in conjunction with the Wayne State Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Clinic, filed a federal lawsuit in February 2014 to ensure that local anti-begging ordinances are declared unconstitutional.
The case settled after township agreed to pay damages and attorneys’ fees and amend its ordinance so that begging is no longer illegal in Waterford.
(Cuthrell v. Waterford Township; ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg and Clinic Law Student Carrie Floyd.)
View the full 2014-2015 Legal Docket.