Supreme Court lets ruling stand that protects homeless sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court on Monday left in place a ruling that deemed it unconstitutional to criminally prosecute homeless people for sleeping on outdoor public property when no other shelter is available.

A panel of judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Boise, Idaho, ordinance violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, prompting the city of Boise to appeal.

The Supreme Court’s decision to deny the appeal means that the requisite four justices did not sign on to hear the petition, and keeps intact the lower court’s decision.

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The 9th Circuit panel was careful to say their ruling was a narrow one that did not impose a requirement on Boise to provide shelter for its entire homeless population, or allow sleeping on all outdoor public areas ay any time.

Rather, the judges found that fining or jailing homeless people for sleeping in public outdoor spaces when no other options were available violated constitutional protections. 

“That is, as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors,” the judges wrote, “the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”