ACLU Case No. 2015-12
An ACLU investigation revealed that the Colorado Springs Police Department, City Attorney’s Office, and Municipal Court are illegally enforcing the City’s panhandling laws against impoverished people who have not violated those laws.
According to a letter sent on September 15, 2015 to the City Attorney by the ACLU of Colorado, the City’s practice has resulted in poor people being fined and imprisoned—for as long as 90 days—“under circumstances that cannot be legally or morally justified.”
There are two sections of the Colorado Springs Municipal Code, Section 9.2.111 and Section 10.18.112, which address solicitation. Both sections state that “soliciting does not include passively standing or sitting with a sign or other indication that one is seeking donations.”
The ACLU of Colorado reviewed all citations issued by the Colorado Springs Police Department since January 2013 under Section 9.2.111 and found that more than one-third of the citations were issued to a person who was displaying a sign. Over that same period, police issued 892 citations for violation of Section 10.18.112. The ACLU reviewed two dozen of those citations and found that more 90 percent were illegally issued to people who engaged in passive solicitation and did not violate the law.
Rather than dismiss the unlawfully-issued citations, the City Attorney’s Office regularly prosecuted the cases, usually against poor or homeless defendants who had no attorney present. Colorado Springs Municipal Court judges then entered convictions and imposed sentences on passive solicitors who had not violated the law. In one particularly alarming case, a municipal court judge sentenced a 58-year-old to 90 days in jail for soliciting with a sign.
The ACLU of Colorado demands that Colorado Springs immediately stop illegal enforcement of the solicitation laws, dismiss pending prosecutions of individuals charged with passive solicitation, and initiate procedures to vacate the sentences of unrepresented defendants who were victims of previous unlawful enforcement of the ordinances.
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