Homeless Criminal Defense








Desertrain -- Los Angeles Vehicle Dwelling Law  .  .  .

           June 19, 2014 -- Federal Appeals Court strikes down Los Angeles vehicle dwelling law.

           Click here for the full text of the Court's opinion.

           Click here for a Palo Alto Weekly article about the case.

On June 19, 2014, the Ninth Circuit released an opinion in Desertrain v. City of Los Angeles, striking down the City's vehicle dwelling law as unconstitutionally vague.  The opinion can be found at the link above.  For those who have followed the development of a similar law in Palo Alto over the last couple of years, the Palo Alto ordinance is functionally identical to the Los Angeles law.  Desertrain holds that:

Section 85.02 provides inadequate notice of the unlawful conduct it proscribes, and opens the door to discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor.  Accordingly, Section 85.02 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as an unconstitutionally vague statute.

For many homeless persons, their automobile may be their last major possession -- the means by which they can look for work and seek social services.  The City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens.  Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.

Referencing Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville (1972) 405 U.S. 156, 161-62, the Ninth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court has viewed such laws as "the descendant of English feudal poor laws designed to prevent the physical movement and economic ascension of the lower class."

In America, such laws had been used to "roundup . . . so-called undesireables," and resulted "in a regime in which the poor and the unpopular [we]re permitted to stand on a public sidewalk . . . only at the whim of any police officer."  Id. at 170, 171 (internal quotation marks omitted).  The Court concluded that "the rule of law implies equality and justice in its application.  Vagrancy laws . . . teach that the scales of justice are so tipped that even-handed administration of the law is not possible.  The rule of law, evenly applied to minorities as well as majorities, to the poor as well as the rich, is the great mucilage that holds society together."  Id. at 171.

The Desertrain plaintiffs were represented by Carol Sobel, civil rights attorney and member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG).

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Homeless Criminal Defense, William Safford, CA Bar #286948