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What are the Tennessee Loitering Law?

Loitering by itself is not a crime, it is simply the act of spending time in a place without an apparent purpose, and for an extended period of time. However, in certain situations, loitering can be seen as a move before engaging in some form of criminal activity. A drug peddler on the streets, for example, may first loiter in an area before making a sale. Prostitution and solicitation for the same are also often preceded by loitering.

In order to dissuade such behavior and prevent criminal activity from taking place, loitering laws were put in place.

What is the law on loitering in Tennessee?

The laws on loitering have been repealed in the State of Tennesse. Originally, loitering laws were based on the 'Poor Laws' of Elizabethan England. Around the 1600s, when the economic situation in the country saw lots of people without jobs and roaming both the streets and the countryside, the Poor Laws were initiated as a way to keep people safe from those who would do them harm during the repression.

The American loitering laws were based on the Poor Laws, and they have constantly been challenged as being either too vague or too broad. The various States in the country have since amended, changed or revised how they approach laws on loitering, including Tennessee.

Loitering

Who can be taken into custody for loitering in Tennessee?

While the law on loitering in Tennessee was repealed, there are certain situations where a person can be taken into custody for engaging in aggressive behavior in addition to loitering. Aggressive panhandling and laws to prevent it, have only recently become official in Tennessee, in the year 2015.

According to this law, anyone found engaging in any of the following behavior while asking for money or donations, can be taken into custody:

  • If the person deliberately touches another person without their consent.
  • If the person obstructs another vehicle or affects the flow of traffic by hindering vehicles.
  • If the person follows a person who refused to give them the donation.
  • If the person acts in a manner that could cause the person they are asking donations to feel threatened, should they not give that person the donation.

TN loitering law
These laws affect the homeless who loiter and beg for money, as well as other panhandlers. It is only the act of aggressive panhandling, and only when the panhandle has behaved in a way that is inappropriate, can they be taken into custody.

What is the punishment for loitering in Tennessee?

Tennessee does not punish loitering as the laws on it were repealed. However, aggressive panhandling is a punishable crime in the State. This is a situation where a person not only loiters but hinders or obstructs other people with the intention of securing money or donations from them.

If a person is caught and convicted of aggressive panhandling, then:
  • For the first violation, they will be charged with a Class C Misdemeanor. The punishment for this is either a fine that does not exceed $50, or time to be spent in jail that is no more than thirty days, or both.
  • For the second violation, and every subsequent violation after that, the person will be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor. The punishment for this is either a fine that does not exceed $500, or time to be spent in jail that does not exceed six months or both.
While loitering by itself is no longer a crime in Tennessee, committing illegal acts alongside loitering can lead to that person being taken into custody and tried for their crime in the State.

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