NYS Loitering, Solicitation Laws Finally History

Governor David Paterson has signed legislation that finally takes loitering and solicitation statutes ruled unconstitutional by New York’s highest court 17 years ago off the books.

As Daniel O’Donnell —the Upper West Side Democratic member of the Assembly who steered the repeal through the Legislature in tandem with his Upper West Side Democratic Senate colleague Eric Schneiderman — noted, the laws “disproportionately targeted panhandlers, the homeless, and gay men” and, because they remain on the books, have often been illegally enforced by police officers.

In April, a federal district court judge, Shira Scheindlin, in an opinion dripping with outrage, found that New York City’s “obstinance and uncooperativeness” in putting an end to such arrests “is offensive to the rule of law.” Scheindlin wrote that gay men “‘cruising’ for sex” were among the chief targets of such enforcement.

The judge ordered that after a six-month period for the city to bring itself into full compliance with her orders, she would impose fines of $500 per incident of wrongful enforcement during the following three months, increasing in $500 increments every 90 days thereafter until a maximum penalty of $5,000 per incident is reached.

In June, a federal court in upstate New York found that an Ithaca police officer who illegally arrested a man on a loitering and solicitation charge was immune from suit because the statutes were still on the books.

The repeal, O’Donnell said in a written statement, “repeals shameful provisions of New York City law that were used to needlessly prosecute some of the most vulnerable members of our community and violate their constitutional rights.”