Thursday, January 22, 2015

Arkansas Criminal Eviction Law Held Unconstitutional






Arkansas was the only state to criminalize a tenant's failure to pay rent while remaining on a landlord's property. . . until this past Tuesday, when Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright held the Arkansas criminal eviction law to be unconstitutional.  

The defendant in State v. Smith was charged in violation of Ark. Code Ann. Section 18-16-101, the "failure to vacate" law, which imposes a criminal penalty on a tenant when she remains on the premises, but fails to pay her rent when due.  The Defendant was convicted in Little Rock District Court, but appealed the conviction to Circuit Court.  The Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charge, arguing that the failure to vacate statute was unconstitutional on state and federal grounds, in violation of her rights to equal protection and due process, that the law unconstitutionally chilled her right to a trial, violated the state and federal prohibition on debtor's prisoners, and that the penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment.  Judge Wright agreed on all points and dismissed the charge.  

The decision is a victory for tenant's rights advocates, and for Arkansas legal services organizations, who supplied the defense for the defendant in this case.  The state will have the opportunity to pursue an appeal.  Alternatively, this legislative session could also be an opportunity for the General Assembly of Arkansas to repeal the law.

C. Michael Daily is an attorney with the long-established law firm of Daily & Woods, P.L.L.C. and is licensed to practice in the states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Wyoming. Mr. Daily can be contacted by telephone at 479-242-3953, by email at mdaily@dailywoods.com, or by regular post at 58 South 6th Street, Fort Smith, Arkansas 72902.  You can follow Mr. Daily via social network using any of the social network links in the right hand column of the page.  Disclaimer:  This blog is for informational purposes, is certainly not to be considered legal advice and is absolutely not a substitute for any of the benefits that are associated with the attorney-client relationship.