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Just as application of the vagrancy ordinances to the displaced poor constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, arresting the homeless for harmless, involuntary, life-sustaining acts such as sleeping, sitting or eating in public is cruel and unusual.
Plaintiffs filed the present action on behalf of themselves and approximately 6000 other homeless people living in the City of Miami, alleging that the city has a custom, practice and policy of arresting, harassing and otherwise interfering with homeless people for engaging in basic activities of daily life--including sleeping and eating--in the public places where they were forced to live. Plaintiffs further claimed that the City has arrested thousands of homeless people for such life-sustaining conduct under various City of Miami ordinances and Florida Statutes. According to the plaintiffs, they were being discriminated against because of their status as homeless or poor, and the City’s activities amounted to cruel and unusual punishment which the Eighth Amendment prohibited. In addition, plaintiffs asserted that the city seized and destroyed their property and has failed to follow its own inventory procedures regarding the seized personal property of homeless arrestees and homeless persons in general. According to plaintiffs, the property destruction and arrests, which often result in no criminal charges, prosecutions or convictions, violated their rights under the United States and Florida Constitutions. The plaintiffs contended that pursuant to the Civil Rights Act, codified at 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, they were entitled to conduct their daily lives without harassment and destruction of their property by the city. Accordingly, the plaintiffs asked that the City be enjoined from arresting homeless individuals for inoffensive conduct, such as sleeping or bathing, that they were forced to perform in public.
Did the City violate the homeless people’s constitutional rights, thereby warranting the grant of injunction in favor of the plaintiffs?
The Court granted the homeless' request for declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting police and city from arresting the homeless when engaged in harmless activity. According to the Court, the practice of arresting homeless individuals for harmless involuntary conduct was cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Moreover, the Court said that the City's failure to follow its own written procedure for handling personal of homeless individuals violated the Fourth Amendment as the homeless' property was routinely destroyed. Finally, the Court said that the City had effectively infringed on the homeless' fundamental right to travel in violation of the equal protection clause.