Court Rules on Random Seizure of Possessions of the Homeless


From the Los Angeles Times:

Los Angeles and other cities are barred by the U.S. Constitution from randomly seizing and destroying property the homeless temporarily leave unattended on city streets, a federal appeals court decided Wednesday.

Lincoln BlvdLincoln Blvd. outside of Staples

Upholding a court order against Los Angeles, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the personal possessions the homeless leave for a short time on city sidewalks may be taken only if the possessions pose an immediate threat to public safety or health or involve criminal evidence.

Even then, the court said, the city may not summarily destroy the property and must notify the owners where they can pick it up.

The ruling stemmed from a court fight over a Los Angeles city ordinance aimed at cleaning up the city’s skid row. The city last year posted notices on the streets warning homeless people that their possessions had to be removed during street-cleaning days. City workers, accompanied by police, then seized and destroyed property they found unattended.

Homeless individuals sought and obtained a court order to stop the seizures, and the city appealed.

In ruling against Los Angeles, the 9th Circuit said violating a city ordinance does not strip a person of his or her 4th Amendment right against unlawful seizure of property.

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