Tuesday, January 02, 2007

CA: Rochester "aggressive panhandling" law does not violate free speech

People v Barton, 2006 NY Slip Op 09499 [available here]

Back in 2004, the Rochester City Council approved a municipal code provision that made it a crime to engage in "aggressive" panhandling, defined as standing "on a sidewalk or alongside a roadway" and soliciting from "any occupant of a motor vehicle [...]." (Barton, 2006 NY Slip Op 09499.) The term "solicit" was defined broadly, and included "the spoken, written or printed word or such other acts or bodily gestures as are conducted in furtherance of the purposes of immediately obtaining money or any other thing of value." (Id.)

The code provision was challenged as a violation of constitutionally protected free speech. It was argued that the provision was overbroad because, on its face, the provision would apply not only to aggressive bums but to volunteers soliciting charitable donations and the like. The Court of Appeals disagreed, and instead held that the code provision passed constitutional muster because it was "narrowly tailored" to address a "significant" problem (i.e. "individuals seeking handouts from occupants of motor vehicles on a public thoroughfare or place, thereby creating a hazard and slowing or snarling traffic"), and the restriction left "open ample alternative avenues to communicate any message of indigency or need through begging." (Id.)