The Associated Press has reported that U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker has ruled a state law banning panhandling in public places violates First Amendment protections for free speech and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The opinion concerns James Speet and Ernest Sims, two Grand Rapids men arrested in 2011 for begging. They were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Speet, who is homeless, was arrested for holding up signs seeking “work or help.” Sims pleaded guilty to panhandling after asking for spare change. Both men receive food stamps, and Sims also receives $260 per month in state disability insurance.
Grand Rapids enforced the panhandling ban 399 times between Jan. 1, 2008, and May 24, 2011, the ACLU said.
“Pending future developments in this case, Grand Rapids police will not be enforcing this state law,” said Catherine Mish, Grand Rapids’ city attorney, adding that it’s too early to tell whether an appeal will be filed.