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Anti-begging law deemed unconstitutional

  |   Aug. 15, 2013 at 7:02 PM
LANSING, Mich., Aug. 15 (UPI) -- A federal court has ruled that a Michigan law that bans begging is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.

A three-judge panel unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that Grand Rapids police unlawfully arrested two homeless men in 2011 for asking for change, The Detroit News reported Wednesday.

Between 2008 and 2011, police reported 409 incidents in which they enforced the anti-begging ordinance. Of those cases, 399 people were arrested or issued tickets for begging in Grand Rapids, and 211 were sentenced to jail terms, the panel said.

James Speet and Ernest Sims, both of whom are homeless and were given tickets for begging in 2011, filed a lawsuit against Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the City of Grand Rapids and several Grand Rapids police officers, alleging the Michigan law, which has been on the books since 1929, violated their First Amendment rights.

"Michigan's interest in preventing fraud can be better served by a statute that, instead of directly prohibiting begging, is more narrowly tailored to the specific conduct, such as fraud, that Michigan seeks to prohibit," Judge Boyce Martin wrote in an opinion joined by judges Jeffrey Sutton and John R. Adams.

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