Monday, May 25, 2009

Beggars can't be Choosers: It's the Law

Posted by Jack
509.08 BEGGING PROHIBITED.
(a) No person, either directly or indirectly, shall beg, or solicit alms or ask subsistence by charity in and upon the streets or public places of the City, or enter a dwelling, yard or enclosure without the permission of the owner or occupant thereof to beg, solicit alms or ask subsistence by charity.
(Ord. 1970. Passed 9-15-24.)

(b) Whoever violates this section is guilty of a minor misdemeanor.

This is an ordinance still on the books here in Springfield, OH.

First of all, I want to point out that asking for alms or charity is illegal in the city of Springfield. Think about that.

You may not ask for food if you are hungry. You may not ask for clothing if your outfit is tattered. You may not ask for financial help. To do so will make you guilty of a misdemeanor criminal offense.

Secondly, I want to point out the word “indirectly.” What does it mean to “indirectly” beg?

If a homeless man is sitting on the street corner in plain sight… not begging, but simply sitting in plain sight… is he guilty of “indirect” begging?

If I was jumped by some robbers, like the man in the story of the Good Samaritan, and I was lying there on the side of the road bleeding and dying… could I be accused of “indirectly” begging?

Could I be fined for looking too pitiful? Could I be cited for lingering outside a restaurant in a state of restlessness and hunger?

The ordinance goes so far as to prohibit entering onto a person’s property with the intent to beg. Does this mean that knocking on a neighbor’s door to borrow a cup of sugar is illegal?

Can our friends knock on the door at 125 W Mulberry in their time of need, or should they fear retribution?

501.10 COMPLICITY.
(a) No person, acting with the kind of culpability required for the commission of an offense, shall do any of the following:

(1) Solicit or procure another to commit the offense;

(2) Aid or abet another in committing the offense;

(3) Cause an innocent or irresponsible person to commit the offense.

[…]

(f) Whoever violates this section is guilty of complicity in the commission of an offense, and shall be prosecuted and punished as if he were a principal offender. A charge of complicity may be stated in terms of this section, or in terms of the principal offense.

Here at the Mulberry Street Community, we are committed to sharing with those who are in need. This means that we often give gifts to people we meet in our neighborhood.

If we walk down the street and give a sandwich to a homeless guy, can we be found guilty of complicity in the commission of an offense? After all, we are aiding the man in committing the offense of begging, aren’t we?

If a person knocks on the door to ask for help of some kind, or for an invitation to dinner, and we answer the door, are we complicit in their begging?

If we are, convict us right now. The ordinance clearly states in section (f) that we can be prosecuted as the principal offender. So, if we help a person beg, we can be punished alongside them.

At first, I thought this ordinance was one of those things still on the books from ages past… you know, something that is technically law, but is never enforced. Sadly, I have seen in the court records that people have been convicted of “begging” in recent weeks.

What does that look like?

501.99 PENALTIES FOR MISDEMEANORS.
(a) Financial Sanctions.
In addition to imposing court costs pursuant to Ohio R.C. 2947.23, the court imposing a sentence upon an offender for a misdemeanor committed under the Codified Ordinances, including a minor misdemeanor, may sentence the offender to any financial sanction or combination of financial sanctions authorized under this section. If the court in its discretion imposes one or more financial sanctions, the financial sanctions that may be imposed pursuant to this section include, but are not limited to, the following:

[…]

E. For a minor misdemeanor, not more than one hundred fifty dollars ($150.00).

Court records indicate that people have been jailed for “begging,” for at least 2 days.

Section 3 of 501.99 also indicates that those who are guilty of misdemeanors can be ordered to reimburse the court for various things, including fees for supervision, for room and board in jail, and for costs for any medical, dental, or other treatment given while in jail.

So, a person convicted of begging (or guilty of “aiding” a beggar) could:

- be fined up to $150

- put in jail for a few days and/or required to reimburse the court for its services)

What is the purpose of this ordinance?

Perhaps I can think of a few things.

First, this ordinance is an attempt to put up a wall between those who have and those who don’t. This is one of those provisions we’ve written into our own system to protect ourselves from ever having to interact with the poor.

Second, this gives law enforcement officers a legal leg to stand on when it comes to interacting with the poor and homeless. If they want to run a person into the station, namely a homeless person, they have a legitimate means to do so.

“Officer Smith, look over there. That man sitting on the sidewalk seems to be asking for alms, subsistence, or charity… perhaps even directly! Let’s run him in!”

This law pointedly affects the homeless population in Springfield. After all, if they were to ask for help of some kind, it would be done "upon the streets or in the public places" of the city.

Some might find merit in the second portion of the ordinance which prohibits people entering onto another’s property without permission… but don’t the trespassing ordinances of this city already provide for that?

This city ordinance has certainly raised a lot of questions for us here at Mulberry House. Perhaps you have some questions too.

All of us could easily raise these questions to the mayor and the other members of the City Commission.

Vested with the City Commission is the power to enact local legislation, adopt budgets, determine policies, and appoint the city manager, law director, finance director, and city clerk.

Information on the Commission members can be found here.

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