The Deal

As of this morning, the infraction is not in the court’s computer system, but it appears I have a Notice to Appear at the criminal court for littering. The only way to contest the charge is, amazingly enough, by trial (since this is not a Vehicle Code charge), which will involve submitting a bail amount and obtaining an attorney. But I haven’t been able to confirm this with anyone at the Criminal Court. I had wanted to try a Trial by Written Declaration, but it seems that this is reserved only for Vehicle Code citations. The specific offense is San Francisco Municipal Police Code 33:

It shall be unlawful for any person or persons to put, place, sweep, throw, brush or in any other manner deposit any rubbish, paper, cards, newspapers, wrapping or wrapping paper, container of any kind, string, cord, rope or other binding or fastening material, sweepings, dirt or debris or discarded material of any kind or character upon any sidewalk, street, alley, gutterway or other public place in the City and County of San Francisco. It shall also be unlawful for any person or persons to throw, sweep or brush any rubbish, paper sweepings or dirt from any residence, flat, apartment house, store or office building into any sidewalk, street or alley. (Amended by Ord. 1994, Series of 1939, App. 3/8/43)

I’m going to be very careful in how I describe this process. And some of these posts may be removed in the not so distant future. But I will keep you folks posted.

[UPDATE: I spoke with a very nice clerk at the Traffic Division, who apparently had to hunt for the bail amount through a few musty papers. (“Littering? We don’t get too many of those,” she told me.) Thankfully, I will not need an attorney, assuming that the charge is strictly littering. I will need to post a bail amount for $350. The two sides will then present their respective accounts over the course of a few hours. And the judge will then reduce or dismiss the amount. So this comes as some relief. The only gray area is the second checkbox on my Notice to Appear for some unspecified charge, and whether or not I have been cited for what they threw me into the holding cell for. Hopefully, a more formal notice will appear in the mail spelling out exactly what I am charged with and why I need to appear in court. I do plan to obtain a copy of the police report to determine what the police officers’ side of the story is.]


  1. I just now heard about this, and to be honest, at first, I thought you were joking, or writing some satire!

    I hope you manage to fight it, and win.
    I’m thinking of you.

  2. Dude! There are folks smoking crack and shooting each other in the alley behind my loft every fucking night and the SFPD has nothing better to do than cite you for littering?
    Anyhow – if they do not drop the charges be sure to demand a jury trial (which, I’m sure you probably know, you have the right to do for any criminal charge) – and then perhaps point out to the judge how the expense of a jury trial would seem to be a waste of valuable city resources; and that you have learned your lesson, etc. etc. Good luck!

  3. Statutes criminalizing such things as littering and loitering are really class-based and race-based selectively-enforced methods of control of disfavored groups. They are rarely enforced in settings where wealthy, well-connected people hang out — unless the arrestee looks conspicously “out of place,” like a Chicano artist I know picked up while walking through Lake Forest, IL, or a black friend questioned by police for standing in front of his own house in Coral Gables, FL.

    Chicago’s anti-loitering law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1999. It was supposedly a gang-control law, but in three years it had resulted in 42,000 arrests of all kinds of Chicagoans. Justice Stevens’ 6-3 majority opinion said there was no way to tell if two men hanging out near Wrigley Field. Are were there “to rob an unsuspecting fan or just to get a glimpse of Sammy Sosa leaving the ball park.”

  4. I just don’t get it. You can be handcuffed, driven down to the juzgado and thrown in the drunk tank for littering, and maybe some other charge they haven’t told you about yet (and why not?). You can be cited for D&D but not given any kind of sobriety test to see if you’re D. You can be shoved around and given grief for no reason whatsoever.

    This all stinks. Royally.

    Add to my previous Leah Garchik and Jon Carroll suggestions, Mark Morford and someone over at

  5. Just because you don’t NEED an attorney doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have one. I thought people who brought their attorneys with them to traffic court were ridiculous — until I represented myself in traffic court and said all the wrong things to the judge (namely, I pleaded “not guilty” — because I wasn’t. Who knew that the only way to win in traffic court is to plead “guilty with explanation”?) Anyway, you need to have someone with you who is familiar with the system, thus my advice to call the ACLU. They should be able to give you the name of someone who will handle the case with minimal cost or even pro bono.

  6. That’s too bad, but if these cops could be assigned to Lower Haight we’d be glad to have them. It would make history if someone were to be arrested for littering or drinking in public here.

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