Arizona's Anti-Begging Law Is Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules

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Arizona's law that makes it a crime to beg in public is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.

The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona against the City of Flagstaff, and there's been little disagreement among anyone involved that begging is protected by the First Amendment.

See also:
-Flagstaff Cops No Longer Arresting People for Begging
-ACLU Says Begging Is Not a Crime

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake's ruling orders the defendants to send a copy of the order/injunction to every law-enforcement agency in the state within 30 days.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit after 135 arrests in one year for "loitering to beg," including the arrest of a disabled 4-foot-8, 77-year-old woman asking an undercover cop for $1.25 to cover a bus fare, according to the suit.

The woman, Marlene Baldwin, says in a statement released by the ACLU, "I'm glad I won't be taken to jail just for speaking to people."

According to Flagstaff's local paper of record, the Arizona Daily Sun, police were using the state law to bust panhandlers with regularity, in an effort to get "alcoholic transients off the street earlier in the day."

The ACLU says several similar laws have been struck down by state and federal courts before this one, including a Phoenix city ordinance.

"Prosecutors and police across the state will no longer be able to use this anti-begging law to criminalize protected expression," ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda says in a statement.

Read the judge's order on the next page.

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JaCinda Crawford
JaCinda Crawford

they are beggin for a throat punch when they invade my personal space demanding change. seriously have the good judgment to not aggressively accost single women with children in tow


I know how much certain Arizonans hate to be reminded how many of their fellow residents are unemployed — not to mention often hungry, homeless, and lacking necessary mental and physical health care.  But in the interests of free speech, those in need have a right to speak up and identify themselves and ask for help, if that is their wish.  I'm glad to know a Federal court concurs and I thank the ACLU for standing up for their rights.

ExpertShot topcommenter

From a Letter to the Editor at the Prescott Courier:

 One of the more innovative approaches employed in cities with a homeless population is to put them to work. The plan is simple. In Nashville there is a little newspaper called "The Contributor" published by and about the homeless. It includes local and national news. It also features articles written by and about the homeless.
In it readers are made more knowledgeable of who are the homeless, why they are homeless and what are their goals for getting their lives back on track. Also poems, art work and other creative submissions from the homeless community are in each edition. The beauty of the arrangement is this the homeless are given a number of the papers to sell on the streets on consignment. (Those who have hygiene issues or need decent clothing are first referred to the Salvation Army) The selling price is usually a dollar. Many buyers include a tip. Upon selling the allotted number of papers they return for re-supply. Now they pay fifty cents apiece for the first batch, already sold. They net fifty cents (plus tips) for each copy sold. If they fail to settle up then of course they get no more papers to sell. Some homeless are good at this sales thing. Many become regular fixtures at certain high traffic areas. Many are able to get off the street and into apartments. The community gets to see that there is a huge creative spirit running through these unfortunate souls cast adrift on our sidewalks. Wouldn't you rather have someone offering you a newspaper, filled with informative stories, clever poems and intricate art work instead of "hey buddy can you spare a dime?" There is usually one professional person who can pull together a volunteer group to get the paper published. Often the printer will print for the cost of ink and newsprint only. There must be someone in Prescott who could put together a paper like this and put some of the homeless to work. Once they find out they can sell newspapers they may discover they can sell automobiles, vacuum cleaners, RV's or other items. Look how many job listing there are for sales people. As they say "ya gotta start somewhere.
Hey Ben Hanson, publisher of the Courier, I challenge you to work on this. The Contributor is online and I am sure they would give you their template to get started.

eric.nelson745 topcommenter

"Got any spare change?" is one thing, but AGGRESSIVE panhandling is something else entirely. I hope that Judge Wake made note of that fact in his ruling.


Are they still going to roust the drunken indians passed out on the sidewalks? It's really distasteful to my upscale white friends and family to have to step over liquor steeped indians just to enter an upstanding business and redistribute our wealth.

MaskedMagician1967 topcommenter

Why am I not surprised that Arizona would criminalize the exercise of one's Constitutional rights?

valleynative topcommenter


Aggressiveness wouldn't be charged under this particular statute.  You wouldn't arrest somebody for "loitering" if they were grabbing people or threatening them in any way.


@kemosabe All thinly veiled racism aside, Flagstaff really does have a serious problem with beggars, and especially "street alcoholics," most of whom, unfortunately, are Native American. I have friends in Flag I visit often, and when you go to the downtown area or the "southside" neighborhood south of the tracks, it is hard to go more than a few hours without running into panhandlers asking for money. I fell for it once, when a man approached me and said he needed 5 more dollars to get enough bus fare to go see his sick grandmother before she died. Like a fool I gave it to him. An hour or so later I spotted the same guy coming out of a liquor store carrying a tallboy. 

The problem, according to my friends, is that Flagstaff doesn't have the facilities to handle all these street drunks. The county jail shut down its drunk tank several years ago, and the only homeless shelter in town won't allow people in if they're intoxicated. There are only a handful on inpatient beds for drug and alcohol treatment in Flagstaff, and of course no one wants more built in their neighborhood. The police & fire departments respond to more "man down intoxicated" calls than anything else.

The City Council passed an anti-begging ordinance out of concern that all these street alcoholics were harassing tourists and hurting the city's tourism-dependent economy. The idea was that if they threw some of these people in jail, it might give them the impetus to get help, or at the very least encourage them to just leave town. It hasn't worked. Further complicating matters are the run-of-the-mill homeless and transients who, like snowbirds, spend their winters in Phoenix and then move up to Flag for the summer, often camping out in the woods around town. Several forest fires around Flag in recent years have been started by transients; many believe (although it's never been proven) the the Schultz Fire was started by a transient. 

I don't know what the solution to the problem is, but what they have been doing sure as hell isn't working.  

valleynative topcommenter


Yes, since that is illegal and not the exercise of any protected right.



@ExpertShot I remember seeing The Grapevine when I first moved to AZ; not sure what happened to it but city ordinances might have had something to do with it. But the bigger problem with The Grapevine was that unlike "The Contributor" and other similar newspapers, which are designed to benefit the homeless and draw attention to their issues, The Grapevine was published by a conspiracy kook who would have made Alex Jones proud. He used the paper as a mouthpiece (and the homeless as his sales staff) to spread his crazy ideas. I bought an issue once just to see what was in it, and among other batshit-crazy rantings was an article claiming that the judges on the Arizona Supreme Court were all members of a Satan-worshipping cult that regularly sacrificed teenage girls. I shit you not. That said, I might support a paper that was more like "The Contributor," assuming it could legally be sold by the homeless.

yourproductsucks2 topcommenter

panhandlers can be quite aggressive without becoming physical or threatening.

yourproductsucks2 topcommenter

your 'black or white' approach to this topic is cute. How does harassment fit into your scenario? There are professional panhandlers or there that won't take no for an answer and they pick the weak and fragile targets to scam. they aren't 'just asking' by any stretch of the imagination.

valleynative topcommenter


If they're not being physical or threatening, then they're just asking, which is legal, unless they make it to the point of being a "public nuisance", which is also not covered by the loitering ban.

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