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Ninth Circuit rules cities cannot destroy property of homeless

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that the city of Los Angeles violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments [Cornell LII backgrounders] to the US constitution when it seized and destroyed the abandoned property of homeless people. The plaintiffs were several homeless people whose possessions were seized by the city and destroyed. The Ninth Circuit ruled 2-1 that the city's random seizure of homeless people's property without notice and an opportunity to be heard violated the homeless' due process rights:

Because homeless persons' unabandoned possessions are "property" within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, the City must comport with the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause if it wishes to take and destroy them. ....We reject the City's suggestion that we create an exception to the requirements of due process for the belongings of homeless persons.
One judge dissented, arguing that the Fourth Amendment's restrictions on governmental seizures do not protect unattended personal property in public spaces.

The rights of homeless people [JURIST news archive] have been a contentious legal issue recently. In August JURIST guest columnist Sapphire Jule King asserted that states need to enact comprehensive legislation [JURIST comment] to protect the homeless from discrimination. In July JURIST guest columnist Linda Tashbook argued that Rhode Island's recently-passed Homeless Bill of Rights [text, PDF; JURIST report] provides an improved set of standards [JURIST op-ed] by which states should treat their homeless citizens. In April the US Department of Justice [official website] found that ordinances criminalizing homelessness may violate human rights [JURIST report] as well as the Fourth and Eighth Amendments. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled in 2008 that current state laws regarding sex offenders are unconstitutional as applied to homeless people [JURIST report]. The state court determined that the law, which did not permit listing "homeless" as an acceptable address, "[did] not give homeless sexual offenders without a residence address fair notice of how they can comply with the statute's registration requirement." In 2008 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that his administration had reached a settlement [press release; JURIST report] in a long-standing lawsuit over homeless families' right to use shelters throughout the city.

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