Judge Rules Arizona's Panhandling Law Unconstitutional

October 04, 2013

A federal judge struck down an Arizona law Friday that bans panhandling in public places. The judge says begging on city streets is constitutionally protected free speech.

Judge Neil Wake’s ruling abolishes the statute that police and prosecutors have used to remove panhandlers from public places. 

The Arizona ACLU filed the suit challenging the law on behalf of a Hopi woman who was arrested in Flagstaff for allegedly begging. 

ACLU legal director Dan Pachoda said Flagstaff police were using the law to harass people asking for handouts. 

“Even by undercover police who would entrap them by asking them what they were looking for and when they asked for that dollar or needed food, the Flagstaff police department’s policy was to arrest them immediately and take them to jail” Pachoda said.

Five years ago, Flagstaff adopted a policy in cooperation with local businesses called “Operation 40” to arrest panhandlers before tourists filled the city’s downtown each day.  Pachoda said 135 people were also arrested statewide for public panhandling over the past 18 months.