Arizona's law that makes it a crime to beg in public is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.
The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona against the City of Flagstaff, and there's been little disagreement among anyone involved that begging is protected by the First Amendment.
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake's ruling orders the defendants to send a copy of the order/injunction to every law-enforcement agency in the state within 30 days.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit after 135 arrests in one year for "loitering to beg," including the arrest of a disabled 4-foot-8, 77-year-old woman asking an undercover cop for $1.25 to cover a bus fare, according to the suit.
The woman, Marlene Baldwin, says in a statement released by the ACLU, "I'm glad I won't be taken to jail just for speaking to people."
According to Flagstaff's local paper of record, the Arizona Daily Sun, police were using the state law to bust panhandlers with regularity, in an effort to get "alcoholic transients off the street earlier in the day."
The ACLU says several similar laws have been struck down by state and federal courts before this one, including a Phoenix city ordinance.
"Prosecutors and police across the state will no longer be able to use this anti-begging law to criminalize protected expression," ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda says in a statement.
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