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Appeals court says Skid Row homeless can leave possessions on sidewalks temporarily

By Tony Pierce
Published: Wednesday, September 05, 2012, at 12:30PM
Andrew Lopez

Skid Row is "The part of society that no one else wants to touch and look at it," said resident Katherine McNenny.

Homeless people on Skid Row may not have a lot of possessions, but the ones that they have were protected by a federal appeals court Wednesday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that found that seizure and/or destruction of property temporarily left on a sidewalk violated homeless people's Fourth Amendment right against unlawful seizure of property.

Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, was the lone dissenter in the 2-1 vote.

"The Fourth Amendment does not protect unattended personal property left on public sidewalks because the owners, by leaving their property unattended, have relinquished their objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in the property," Callahan wrote in the the 36-page ruling.

"Whatever privacy or property interest Plaintiffs may have had in the property lost social recognition when the property was left unattended on the public sidewalks. Moreover, because Plaintiffs lack a protected property interest in their unattended personal items, I would not reach the second step of the due process analysis. Because society does not recognize Plaintiffs’ alleged privacy and property interests as reasonable, I dissent," Callahan concluded.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, represented the majority by writing, "this appeal does not concern the power of the federal courts to constrain municipal governments from addressing the deep and pressing problem of mass homelessness or to otherwise fulfill their obligations to maintain public health and safety. In fact, this court would urge Los Angeles to do more to resolve that problem and to fulfill that obligation. Nor does this appeal concern any purported right to use public sidewalks as personal storage facilities. The City has instead asked us to declare that the unattended property of homeless persons is uniquely beyond the reach of the Constitution, so that the government may seize and destroy with impunity the worldly possessions of a vulnerable group in our society. Because even the most basic reading of our Constitution prohibits such a result, the City’s appeal is DENIED."

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