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Suit claims panhandling law is unconstitutional

Published May 2, 2014 1:51 pm

Courts • Homeless man says Sandy police are violating his free speech rights.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A homeless man is accusing Sandy City of violating his free speech rights because police officers have cited him and threatened him with arrest for allegedly violating a state panhandling law.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Steve Ray Evans said the threat of arrest has stopped him from holding signs asking for a job or money while on sidewalks and other public places in Sandy "even though he must solicit donations in order to obtain basic necessities."

The suit, filed on Evans' behalf by the Utah Legal Clinic and Utah Civil Rights & Liberties Foundation, seeks a declaration that the state panhandling law making it illegal to ask for a ride, money, job or business while standing near a road is unconstitutional. In addition, the suit asks for unspecified monetary damages, court costs and lawyers' fees.

According to the lawsuit, Evans was cited on April 18 for allegedly violating the statute and told he would be cited or arrested if he continued to panhandle. Violation of the law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $750 and up to 90 days in jail.

This is at least the fourth time Evans has challenged the panhandling law. In one suit, filed against Utah and Salt Lake City by Evans and two other homeless people, the city agreed in 2010 not to enforce the statute. The state continued to fight the suit, and in 2012, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart ruled the law was unconstitutional.

Later in 2012, the cities of Draper and American Fork settled separate suits filed by Evans by agreeing not to enforce the law within their city limits.

The Utah Legislature passed a law this spring that bans panhandling along state highways, freeways and their shoulders. The measure, which goes into effect May 13, does not attempt to prohibit panhandling on a public sidewalk. The change in the law has no effect on Evans' suit because it was not in force when he was cited.

pmanson@sltrib.com

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC