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The condition of an individual who is idle, has no visible means of support, and travels from place to place without working.

At Common Law the term vagrant referred to a person who was idle, refused to work although capable of doing so, and lived on the charity of others. Until the 1970s state vagrancy statutes were used by police to charge persons who were suspected of criminal activity, but whose actions had not gone far enough to constitute a criminal attempt. Court decisions, however, have struck down vagrancy laws as unconstitutionally vague. In addition, the term vagrant has been replaced by Homeless Person as a way of describing a person who is without means or a permanent home.

Traditionally, communities tended to regard vagrants with suspicion and view them either as beggars or as persons likely to commit crimes. In England vagrants were whipped, branded, conscripted into military service, or exiled to penal colonies. In colonial America vagrancy statutes were common. A person who wandered into a town and did not find work was told to leave the community or face criminal prosecution.

After the U.S. Civil War, the defeated Southern states enacted Black Codes, sets of laws that sought to maintain white control over the newly freed African American slaves. The concern that African Americans would leave their communities and deplete the labor supply led to the inclusion of vagrancy laws in these codes. Unemployed African Americans who had no permanent residence could be arrested and fined. Typically, the person could not pay the fine and was therefore either sent for a term of labor with the county or hired out to a private employer.

The abuse of vagrancy laws by the police throughout the United States was common. Such laws were vague and undefined, allowing police to arrest persons merely on the suspicion they were about to do something illegal. In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court addressed this problem in Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 92 S. Ct. 839, 31 L. Ed. 2d 110. The Court ruled that a Florida vagrancy statute was unconstitutional because it was too vague to be understood. The Court emphasized that members of the public cannot avoid engaging in criminal conduct, if prior to engaging in it, they cannot determine that the conduct is forbidden by law. The Court also concluded that the vagrancy law's vagueness lent itself to Arbitrary enforcement: police, prosecutors, and juries could enforce the law more stringently against one person than against another, even though the two individuals' conduct was similar.

After Papachristou the validity of vagrancy statutes was put in doubt. Prosecutions for vagrancy must now be tied to observable acts, such as public begging. Prosecutions are rare, however, because local governments do not want to spend their financial resources incarcerating persons for such offenses.


Homeless Person; Void for Vagueness Doctrine.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. moving about without a means to support oneself, without a permanent home, and relying on begging. Until recently it was a considered a minor crime (misdemeanor) in many states. Constitutionally it is evident that being poor is not a crime. The same is true of "loitering."

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Niall Hodson, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Sunderland City Council, branded the Vagrancy Act as a "heartless" piece of legislation.
A number of possibilities come to mind - from an increase in the number of food carts and creation of a covered, heated dining area to a farmer's market - that could increase pedestrian traffic and discourage vagrancy.
CONTENTS I Introduction II The Regulation of Vagrants in Great Britain III Vagrancy Laws in Australia and New Zealand A Early Colonial Approaches to Vagrancy B Local Vagrancy Statutes C Colonial Precursors to Consorting Offences IV Consorting Offences V Recent Developments in Australia and New Zealand VI Conclusion I INTRODUCTION
Vagueness also became a major issue in a raft of cases lawyers brought against vagrancy laws in the 1960s, as I will discuss in a moment.
Their topics include the neglected soldier as vagrant, revenger, tyrant slayer in early modern England; famine, poverty, and welfare in India under colonial rule; official responses to beggars and vagrants in 19th-century Rio de Janeiro; disciplinary modernism in tsarist Russia; vagrancy and colonial control in British East Africa; imposing vagrancy legislation in contemporary Papua New Guinea; and doing homeless in Tokyo's Ueno Park.
In the first four chapters, she mobilizes recent historical work on early modern vagrancy and wage labor in order to offer a theory of low subjectivity.
US DUBAI ESCAPADE, one of Sheikh Mohammed's most promising US horses, bids for her fifth win in six starts today in the Grade 2 Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont Park.
Gary Pugh, 24, of Stud Lane, Stechford, driving not in accordance with a licence and without insurance, disqualified for 12 months and a conditional discharge for two years' Reg Smith, 33, of Hipton Hill, Lenchwick, Evesham, vagrancy charge and criminal damage, fined pounds 110 and ordered to pay pounds 50 costs and pounds 50 compensation'
Constructive and healthy activity for young people aged 10 to 18 years will be promoted, reducing vagrancy and vandalism in the community.
He portrays the South's postwar Black Codes, which harshly curtailed the rights of freed blacks, as comparable to Northern vagrancy laws--an assertion dismissed as "truly absurd" by David Bernstein, a legal scholar at George Mason University and the author of Only One Place of Redress: African Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts From Reconstruction to the New Deal (2001).
It comes after reports of litter, vagrancy and violence associated with drinking - with bottles and glasses occasionally being used as weapons.
While Pugliatti does not endorse any particular model, her review of repressive and coercive early modern European legislation connected to poverty, homelessness, and vagrancy is consistent with the outlooks of both Karl Marx and Michel Foucault.