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Constitutional Problems with a City of Los Angeles Municipal Code

City of Los Angeles Municipal Code

One can notice serious constitutional problems with the City of Los Angeles (LA) Municipal Code. As per the Municipal Code section 85.02, it is a crime to use one’s car as living quarters during the day, at night, or otherwise. In Desertrain v. Los Angeles, the United States Court of Appeals ruled that the aforementioned section 85.02 of the Municipal Code and the clause therein are unconstitutionally vague.

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As the Court explained, this vagueness (expressed in “or otherwise”) makes it confusing and challenging for the citizens to understand how and why their conduct (such as sleeping in the vehicle) is prohibited. Moreover, the Court claims that Municipal Code authorizes and promotes discriminatory and arbitrary application and enforcement of the law. For instance, the Code unreasonably criminalizes harmless behaviors such as sleeping, eating, or resting inside one’s vehicle.

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Therefore, the fact that LA Municipal Code violates Constitution (14th Amendment) and basic citizens’ rights is a significant problem. Moreover, section 85.02 violates common sense and reason. In particular, it implies that when a homeless person sleeps outside under or near his vehicle under the rain, this person abides by the law. However, when this person seeks shelter from the rain inside his vehicle, he becomes a criminal. Therefore, one can question professionalism and competence of the city representatives creating such laws. Another problematic issue with the City Municipal Code is that it seems to promote a discriminatory treatment of the people with a low socioeconomic status when homeless individuals are treated more harshly by the law. In other words, the City Code violated 14th Amendment by depriving the City of LA residents of equal protection under the law. Specifically, this law seems to create a social environment where (a) citizenship rights of certain categories of community members are undermined, and (b) homeless individuals are further dehumanized and marginalized.


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