Skid Row in Los Angeles, which has one of the highest concentrations of homeless people in the country, has been the site of extended legal battles over the rights of individuals to live on the streets and the power of the government to impose order.
The city’s sole argument on appeal was that homeless people should have had no expectation of privacy because their belongings were on a public sidewalk. And because those things were out in the open, the government had no duty to provide due process before taking them.
The panel wisely dismissed that view. The district court determined that the homeless have a reasonable expectation that the places where they put their belongings are private. The appeals court said it need not resolve that issue because the Fourth Amendment protects against seizures of property, with or without a shield of privacy.
The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly said the “government may not take property like a thief in the night; rather, it must announce its intentions and give the property owner a chance to argue against the taking.”