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Judge forbids Fall River from charging panhandlers before lawsuit settled

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A Superior Court Judge ruled Wednesday that the City of Fall River cannot charge panhandlers before the current suit against the city by ACLU Massachusetts is settled.

According to Judge Raffi Yessayan, the loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, constitutes irreparable injury.

Yessayan also ruled that the ACLU demonstrated that the risk of harm to panhandlers outweighs that of Fall River. By not granting the preliminary injunction, the judge felt that the panhandlers would continue to have their first amendment rights violated.

Yessayan disagreed with the city’s argument that issuing an injunction would thwart the public interest, indirectly promote an unsafe and unsound result, and permit panhandlers and other soliciting individuals to signal, stop, or accost motor vehicles. Yessayan felt the concerns from Fall River were unpersuasive and exaggerated.

One positive note for the city was that the judge ruled Fall River still has the ability to charge panhandlers and solicitors who violate other laws of the Commonwealth such as disorderly persons and disturbers of the peace.

Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn has already ruled that he will not prosecute until the case is settled.

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