ABA Journal


Constitutional Law

Man Is Jailed for Charging Cellphone In Park Picnic Area of City That Offers Free Charges for E-Cars

Nov 13, 2012, 10:05 pm CST


So, he was charged for no-charge charging.

By B. McLeod on 2012 11 13, 11:57 pm CST

The cost of the electric energy to charge an average cell phone in Sarasota, Florida at FPL's retail rate is a fraction of a penny. The fact that they would charge this guy with misdemeanor theft is truly pathetic. There is absolutely no sense of proportion or judgment here.

By Yankee on 2012 11 14, 2:48 am CST

I have to agree with Yankee. If a municipality offers FREE electricity for a dedicated purpose, they should also anticipate the intended misuse of the electricity, and the receptacles. In other words the city should have insurance on the receptacles, because they should realize that sooner or later, some kid will dare another kid to pee in the socket--and that kid will be goofy enough to do it. The city should also have appropriate and reasonable fines for misappropriation of the utilities. In the case of the latter, $25 should cover the utilities, plus the cost of processing the paperwork. If the person is indigent, a day picking up trash on a road crew should cover the fine.

By BMF on 2012 11 14, 3:08 am CST

When a kid does that, it will be a self-charging offense, and the penile consequences will be instantaneous.

By B. McLeod on 2012 11 14, 1:18 pm CST

If I was a Sarasota taxpayer I would be furious that my tax dollars were subsidizing the transportation costs of hybrid and electric car owners. Anyone who can afford the $30k+ price of these vehicles can afford to pay their own fuel costs. And it is especially irritating that these owners avoid their fair share of the costs of road construction and maintenance which are largely funded by gasoline taxes.

By W.R.T. on 2012 11 14, 1:31 pm CST

The issue here is the extreme lack of judgment on the part of the SARASOTA POLICE DEPARTMENT. It appears from the article that this bizarre conduct is not isolated to the arresting officer, but department wide police policy. I would suggest that it's a CITY OF SARASOTA policy. The policy is to drive homeless people out of SARASOTA.
A strip of electric outlets in a picnic shelter at a public park is maintained for the unrestricted use of the public. There are no signs, or any laws, restricting the use of the electric available at these electric outlets. The time of day that this occurred, 9:30 PM was not an issue.
What happened was that a Sarasota Police Officer sees an individual charging his cell phone and arrests him for theft of public property. Query: What if the homeless person had been cooking a crockpot beef stew?
The defendant was arrested not because of what he was doing, but because of who he was. This is morally as well as legally wrong.

By davebert on 2012 11 14, 6:19 pm CST

Am I the only one curious to hear who was on the hobo's contact list? Does he have an iPhone 5, or does he prefer Android? And what are the roaming charges like on his plan?

By NoleLaw on 2012 11 14, 6:55 pm CST

NoleLaw @ 7: If he's like most of the homeless around here, he has one of those cell phones you can buy for about $30 from a grocery or electronics store. It's a "burn phone." You buy pre-paid cell carrier cards for the carrier who supports the phone--usually a basic AT&T model.

By BMF on 2012 11 14, 7:29 pm CST

B.McLeod @ 4: Don't laugh. It actually happened at my high school. Kid got thrown about 10 feet and knocked the power out for the old half of the school. We got out of school early--but I don't know if it was worth it for the kid who took the dare....

By BMF on 2012 11 14, 7:31 pm CST

@7 You ask: "Does he have an iPhone 5, or does he prefer Android? And what are the roaming charges like on his plan?"

I believe he has an Obamaphone

By Yankee on 2012 11 15, 11:36 pm CST

Just another example of the misuse of the criminal justice system. In our state, an arrest for public intoxication, which carries a $25.00 fine, actually can result in costs of about $600.00 (court costs = $169.00, bond court fee of $35.00 if you bond out, $50.00 per month x 6 months of probation charges to pay the court monitoring service, $100.00 for the drug and alcohol class, etc.).

The lesser misdemeanors in the local criminal courts are merely ways to raise money for the local court systems rather than serving the interests of justice.

By JimfromBham on 2012 11 16, 11:08 am CST

Way to go, Sarasota, Florida. Hope the bad publicity was worth it to you.

By R on 2012 11 16, 11:17 am CST

If he'd plugged the phone into a Prius, and the Prius into the outlet, there'd have been no problem. Seems unreasonable to require such an expensive adapter, if you ask me.

By Ham Solo on 2012 11 16, 12:59 pm CST

I have had an electric car for more than two decades; it is remote control.

Electric cars are a concept that is already dead. The only viable green energy is photosynthesis. ©2012

While providing "free" electricity to bourgeois vehicles at taxpayer expensive is offensive (and probably unconstitutional--guess there are no able lawyers in this city), prosecution of the cell phone charger is too ridiculous. These two asinine situations should clean house in the local government. But the lack vision rampant in modern governments, run mostly by lawyers, will no doubt fail the day. My favorite cases are against railing demigods in local governments.

Careful logic doesn't sneak up on you...

By Blue & Gold on 2012 11 16, 2:16 pm CST

Ham Solo @13, you beat me to it, well said.

The failure of every big government program designed to influence behaviour with incentives instead of punishment is that the government can't control downstream utilization. They could attempt to pass a law requiring us to drive hybrids instead of implementing energy policies that drive up the price of gas and down the cost of electricity for hybrids but I don't think that would be well received.

We give out billions in food stamps, that are sold by the poor at pennies on the dollar for cigarettes and alcohol (and drugs, and prostitution, and...).

Panem et circenses

By Christopher in Detroit on 2012 11 16, 2:46 pm CST

@7 NoleLaw - This guy likely has Lifeline service funded through the federal Universal Service Fund, using dollars paid by landline & wireless service providers (and mostly passed through to consumers). The Lifeline discount can apply to either cell or landline service, and some wireless providers offer a low-end Lifeline phone and service at no cost to the consumer. SafeLink (TracFone) and Assurance (Virgin Mobile) come to mind.

@10 Yankee - Can't really call it an Obamaphone. The Lifeline program has been around since 1984 (Reagan) & the USF was created in 1997 to implement some of the universal service requirements in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (passed by a Republican majority congress).

By Telecom Atty on 2012 11 16, 3:32 pm CST

@16 - while Obamaphone is technically incorrect, there was a black woman on a news report that I saw who said Obama should be reelected because he gave her a phone. It was this program, therefore, while technically incorrect, it is politically correct, and therefore, from what I know of most lawyers, should be the term used, since this career field seems to be dominated by the left.

By JME on 2012 11 16, 4:25 pm CST

Is the fact that she was black relevant?

By kms on 2012 11 16, 4:30 pm CST

@17 - So the anecdotal evidence of a statement by an anonymous person in one remembered TV interview trumps historical fact. Excellent revision of the rules of evidence. Yeah, I know, this isn't court, but you're allegedly a lawyer and allegedly were taught to think logically.

By lbradjohn on 2012 11 16, 5:18 pm CST

re #18, #19: who cares. She was black, I gave a descriptive. Relevant? no idea. I didn't try to revise any rules of evidence, merely stated that because of that interview, which was seized upon by a number of talking heads, the phone program now has a nickname. Do I care? No. Get over it. or flame on.

By JME on 2012 11 16, 6:05 pm CST

I love you, Ham Solo.

By K. on 2012 11 16, 8:18 pm CST

As a criminal defense attorney, I see a lot of police actions as thinly veiled harassment of homeless people. Florida's climate is desirable to homeless people who don't want to freeze to death farther north. (I'd take a palmetto bug over frostbite any day.) But the residents/taxpayers/etc in Florida don't want their area to be a mecca for homeless people, so the police make the area inhospitable by charging the homeless with petty and quite-likely-unconstitutional criminal offenses like "illegal lodging" and "trespassing (in a public park, after "curfew" hours -- wait, when did martial law get imposed? did I miss that?) Harass the homeless, arrest them for petty offenses like this, seize their sleeping bags etc, make them go to out-of-the-way places at specific hours to get their property back, or maybe destroy their property. Eventually the homeless will get tired of it and move to another location. Ta da, homeless problem solved! Thanks, Sarasota Police Dept.

By Liberty and justice for owls on 2012 11 16, 8:50 pm CST

@#1--It would appear that the City of Sarasota was Mastercharging the defendant. His real crime was that he overstayed his Visa.

By NOW JERRY BROWN on 2012 11 16, 8:54 pm CST

JME @ 20: "Get over it. or flame on."

I'll choose to flame you. The "descriptive" you offered was one of race and totally unrelated to the topic at hand, and there was no reason to include it in your post @ 17. The inescapable conclusion is that you included that "descriptive" in service to your bigotry.

The number of talking heads calling them "Obamaphones" were paid shills of the Romney campaign on the Fox right-wing-nutjob echo chamber. As Obama did not create or expand any cell phone distribution program, I have yet to encounter any informed or intelligent person who uses that term.

On a final note, I hardly think the legal field is dominated by the left. even though the posters to this board may be. You have many elitist and racist companions out there in the legal field... they tend to work for prosecutor's offices, insurers, banks, hedge funds, etc. Though I do concede that there are many non-elitist and non-racist attorneys working for those clients-- but they tend to keep quiet about it.

By Voice of Reason on 2012 11 16, 11:55 pm CST

A wise and noble decision.

By Tom Youngjohn on 2012 11 17, 12:55 am CST

Right wingers are not locking up the homeless fast enough.

By Adamius on 2012 11 17, 9:05 am CST

Is there any limit as to how much free electricity you can obtain? Can you go there, charge batteries in your car, then discharge them elsewhere for profit, then go back and charge up again? The whole scheme of providing free electricity (read: free money) to people who have electric cars seems totally illegal, and I'm surprised it hasn't been challenged. And yes, it appears the police are harassing the homeless for using that service.

By Walter L. Wagner on 2012 11 18, 12:45 am CST

Reminds me of Paula Hawkins sprinkling kerosene in garbage cans to keep homeless people from eating the garbage.

By B. McLeod on 2012 11 18, 2:41 am CST

Thank you #24, Voice of Reason. Also, posters #18 & #19. No need for me to add any other remarks because you three have stated the points well.

By NYC Lawyer on 2012 11 18, 6:31 pm CST

Yankee your comment at 2 was reasonable. Your comment at 10 was not. 18, 19 and 24 well said. If there was any reason to this law, it would hit you or I if we charged our phones. This person was arrested for being who he was not for what he did.

By George Sly on 2012 11 18, 11:50 pm CST

You may disagree with the policy of the free charging stations for electric cars, but I don't see how it can be illegal. The government often gives incentives, monetary and otherwise, to encourage behavior it favors. For instance, I get a discount on my government-provided health insurance because I do not smoke. If a city decides it want to reduce the effects of pollution on its population by encouraging the use of electric cars, I see no legal problem with subsidizing it.

By IndyCanary on 2012 11 19, 4:02 pm CST

I would like to see the implementation of some sort of "Like," "Agree," or "Thumbs Up" button for comments. Some of these comments and puns are too good not to applaud.

Perhaps there should also be a "Please pull your head out of Sean Hannity's ___" button. Or a "Disagree" button, if you want to be less specific.

By K. on 2012 11 19, 7:27 pm CST

Sarasota, LF must have one of the lowest crime rates in the nation. Clearly their police are not very busy.

By AndytheLawyer on 2012 11 20, 12:13 am CST


If a city decides that they want to help solve the homeless problem, and starts giving away cash to people who need a motel room, no questions asked, would you have a problem with that being illegal?

By Walter L. Wagner on 2012 11 20, 2:29 am CST


That's an interesting question, which I will answer with the following: Since the people running the city are elected, if the townsfolk decide they don't like the policy of giving away free money to homeless people they're free to vote them out the next election, or even hold a special election to recall those people from office. Now you're right, if the place passed a law that you couldn't give out electricity for free to electric cars, what the city is doing would be illegal, but since there's no evidence such a law exists, it can't be illegal.

I guess in summary I'm saying that you have a problem with them giving away electricity because you think it's wrong, but just because it's "wrong" doesn't mean it's illegal.

By OKBankLaw on 2012 11 20, 7:41 pm CST

@34 Trying to solve the problem of homelessness by giving away cash, no questions asked, to folks who say the need a motel room may be very unwise policy, but I don't think a city would be doing anything illegal. There are probably lots of legal programs for any number of problems that are not very wise.

This reminds me of when my church occasionally put up homeless folks in a local motel, after doing some investigation into their claims. Unfortunately, the local motel told the pastor that one of the women who received money was running an unsavory business out of her motel room. The well-meaning but unwise program ended.

By IndyCanary on 2012 11 20, 9:06 pm CST

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