Loitering: What Is It? Why Is It Illegal?

Loitering laws, which make it illegal for someone to be in a public location without a valid purpose, have often been found to be unconstitutional due to their vagueness and overbroad nature.

The First Amendment is the basis for challenges to loitering regulations that are too broad. While challenges alleging the overly broad language of the statutes are typically based on First Amendment concerns, challenges citing vagueness are typically based on the due process provision of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Loitering regulations do not identify a loiterer other than by simple presence and the absence of a visible source of support, in contrast to vagrancy laws, which target those who live on the streets, have no visible means of support and may beg for money from bystanders. any clear purpose.

American Loitering Laws Were Inspired By The “Poor Laws” Of England.

American Loitering Laws

The loitering rules in America were based on the “Poor Laws” of Elizabethan England. By the 1600s, there were an increasing number of English itinerant workers and unemployed people wandering the country’s rural and city streets. They grew along with the rate of crime. The Parliament’s Poor Legislation included “vagrancy” laws, which typically included loitering, to address the issue as a result of England’s struggling economy. Vagrancy was a crime, in contrast to the majority of transgressions covered by the economically motivated Poor Laws.

Some Loitering Regulations Intended To Handle Gang Activity And Prostitution

The crime prevention component of the English vagrancy laws has traditionally been stressed in U.S. anti-loitering statutes. Nowadays, loitering is illegal in most cities around the country.

However, they have come under criticism since they have evolved into a valuable law enforcement instrument for upholding public order by removing the undesirable and criminal parts of society from the streets.

Police have been accused of utilizing loitering laws to arrest loafers, pilferers, and the homeless even though the rules may have been designed to combat prostitution, gang activity, and drug selling. As a result, such laws are vulnerable to accusations of being imprecise and overbroad.

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Loitering Rules Are Frequently Challenged Because They Are Ambiguous And Unduly Broad.

Legislation may be deemed “void for vagueness” if it fails to provide law enforcement officials with adequate information or fails to inform the general public in a way that is clear and objective about what the law bans. clear and impartial criteria for its use. Furthermore, if it forbids actions that aren’t protected by the Constitution but could also be used to forbid constitutionally protected actions, it might be ruled unconstitutional for having an overbroad scope of intent and application.

In Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, the first substantial challenge to general loitering rules was made (1972). A loitering ban was enacted in Jacksonville, Florida, and loiterers were described as “persons roaming or walking around from place to place without any lawful purpose or aim.”

Laws Against Loitering May Restrict First Amendment Rights.

In a ruling by William O. Douglas, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the legislation was simply too ambiguous to allow the typical person to understand what constitutes loitering based on Jacksonville’s definition. what is allowed and what is not. A person who goes for a daily walk may be judged to be loitering and detained. A second issue with the law’s ambiguity is that “the net is cast large,” giving each police officer essentially unrestricted discretion in determining who is loitering and who is simply out for a walk.

The statute not only allowed but even encouraged police to enforce the law arbitrarily and discriminatorily against “the poor and the unpopular” because there were no objective standards of guilt.

The laws were deemed to be unduly broad by the court as well. Even though the First Amendment does not specifically mention the right to stroll or loiter, it does safeguard the freedoms of expression, assembly, and petition. Petitioning the authorities Because Jacksonville’s definition of loitering was so broad, it might be used to either deny these rights or to threaten an arrest in order to have a “chilling effect” on their exercise. even though some loitering rules have been revised.

The majority of loitering laws were changed as a result of Papachristou’s adding specific penalties related to loitering, or “loitering-plus” legislation. The new loitering rules are nevertheless subject to the same judicial review as the older ones.

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Broad-Based Loitering Laws.

In Virginia v. Hicks (2003), the Court upheld a trespassing statute that applied to non-residents of public housing against charges of being overbroad while leaving open the possibility that it could be upheld in the future. In City of Chicago v. Morales (1999), the Court invalidated a Chicago gang loitering ordinance as being excessively vague. be subject to “as-applied” judicial review.

Former Northwestern State University professor Alex Aichinger is from Louisiana. Additionally, he contributed to Volumes I and II of the American Constitutional Law. 2009 saw the initial publication of this essay.


Lingering is it a significant crime?

Waiting around is not a significant offense. Most lawbreakers will receive a fine. For infractions, some states impose jail time and fines that rise with the number of offenses.

What exactly constitutes loitering?

Loitering is characterized as spending extended periods of time in a public area, typically outside, without a valid reason.

What does it mean to loiter signify?

Lingering is defined as spending a significant amount of time in a public or private space without a clear reason.

What makes loitering illegal?

When loitering is connected to drug dealing, prostitution, unlicensed sales of commodities, impeding traffic in a public area, and begging, it is a felony.

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Riya Barman

I am a student of Miranda House, University of Delhi currently in my 3rd year pursuing a BA(Hons) in Sociology. I'm Skilled In Writing, Speaking And Very Much Open To Learning Process. Some Of My Hobbies Are Reading, Music, And Dance.

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