The act of panhandling, commonly known as begging, is a constitutionally protected form of speech.1 But Washington’s cities are increasingly enacting ordinances that criminalize begging. The consequences of criminalizing begging are severe and include violations of First Amendment and due process rights. Indeed, these ordinances often outlaw peaceful and nonintrusive behavior protected by the First Amendment. Some advocates assert that since 2015, “100% of federal court cases have ruled bans/restrictions [on begging] are unconstitutional.”
This brief is organized into three parts. Part I overviews First Amendment and due process law often disregarded by these begging restrictions; Part II discusses the criminalization of begging in Washington, covering new data regarding anti-begging laws across the state; and Part III analyzes select begging restrictions in Washington to consider whether these laws would withstand judicial scrutiny. This brief concludes with recommendations for more compassionate, lawful, and effective approaches to begging.