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Court Strikes Down Manchester's Anti-Panhandling Law


The New Hampshire District Court has struck down Manchester's anti-panhandling ordinance, concluding the law violated the First Amendment. Under the ordinance, people were not allowed to accept charitable contributions from motor vehicles, even if they stayed out of the roadway.


Elliot Berry, from New Hampshire Legal Assistance, was a representing attorney in the case.

Berry says the federal court decision calls into question the constitutionality of similar ordinances in Concord, Somersworth and Rochester. 

"I think what's really significant is it removes one of the ways that municipalities have chosen to criminalize poverty and homelessness," Berry says.


New Hampshire Legal Assistance and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire brought the lawsuit on behalf of Theresa M. Petrello, a veteran who resorted to panhandling in 2015 to make ends meet.


Emily Gray Rice, the interim City Solicitor in Manchester, tells the Union Leader that the city has not made any decision on a potential appeal. Manchester is reviewing the 65-page ruling.


According to Legal Assistance, Manchester police issued 19 summonses between March of 2015 and March of 2016.


Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard has described the ordinance has a public safety measure. Berry's suit maintained Petrello and others did not physically step into a roadway and remained on public property.


The court concluded Manchester's ordinance violated the First Amendment because it "burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the City's legitimate safety interests."

CLICK HERE to read the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Landya McCafferty in Theresa M. Petrello v. City of Manchester.

Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR. She manages the station's news magazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can email her at mmcintyre@nhpr.org.

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