In December, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case regarding homeless encampments, leaving a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in place that prohibits towns from fining a homeless person for camping on city property.
“The denial of the petition means that the 9th Circuit decision will not be reviewed by the Supreme Court,” said Greg LeBlanc, senior assistant to the city manager.
“Although Colorado is in the 10th Circuit, the City’s position is consistent with the 9th Circuit and represents the most applicable law on the subject,” he said.
In April 2019, the City Council voted to approve an ordinance that would align it with federal law.
The ruling in the case of Martin vs. Boise, Idaho held that it violates the Eighth Amendment to criminalize camping in public spaces if area homeless shelters are full.
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, but it also mentions “excessive fines” and bail amounts as part of its authority.
The ordinance adopted by the city still prohibits camping on city property, in parks, open spaces and along the riverfront; however, the new ordinance notes that it will not be enforced against the city’s homeless population if shelters are full.
“The city shall not engage in enforcement of this ordinance, which might have the effect of criminalizing homelessness and constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, when there is no shelter space available,” City Attorney John Shaver wrote in background material prepared for city councilors at the time the ordinance was passed.
Since the city already changed its policies to accommodate the 9th Circuit ruling, the council will not need to make further changes to its municipal code as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, LeBlanc said.
For people not experiencing homelessness, camping on city property is prohibited unless they are given permission from the city.