City of Boulder v. Madison

Criminal Justice
Case No. No. 2010-CV-716, District Court, Boulder County, Colorado
ACLU Case No. 2010-07


Homeless persons in Boulder are at risk of being prosecuted under a city ordinance that prohibits “camping.” The law prohibits sleeping outside with “shelter,” which Boulder defines to include any protection from the elements other than clothing. Thus, under Boulder’s ordinance, sleeping outside at night is not “camping,” but sleeping while using a blanket or sleeping bag is a crime. The city’s homeless shelter is closed in the summer and can accommodate only 160 persons in the winter, less than a quarter of the city’s homeless population. In 2009 and early 2010, advocates for the homeless unsuccessfully urged the city council to stop enforcing the ordinance.

The ACLU’s homeless client in this case, David Madison, was charged with violating the camping ordinance last November, when he slept outside in a sleeping bag during a night when the temperature dropped to eleven degrees. Madison had sought refuge that night at the homeless shelter, but there was no space for him. He was found guilty of “camping” in Boulder Municipal Court, because the sleeping bag constituted “shelter” and therefore violated the camping ban.

On appeal, ACLU lawyers argue that enforcing Boulder’s ordinance against homeless persons violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. The ACLU also argues that even if ban on sleeping with “shelter” is” constitutional, Mr. Madison nevertheless had a right to use a sleeping bag to protect himself from hypothermia and frostbite.


Dave Harrison
Mark Silverstein , ACLU of Colorado Legal Director
Mark Walta
Taylor Pendergrass , ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney

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