Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Loitering Definition:

To waste time; to be idle.

Related Terms: Vagrancy, Vagrant

Loitering: wandering without purpose or standing idling.

This is an old offence - sister to the offence of vagrancy - which is rarely prosecuted anymore and is slowly being removed from public prosecutor manuals.

It was fashionable in older times when industriousness was promoted and generalized relaxation was feared as a threat to society, a loathed disease worthy of statutory control.

In City of Columbus v Aldrich, a charge of loitering was laid when "one Oliver Aldrich, on or about the 3rd day of November, A. D. 1941, at the City of Columbus, County of Franklin and State of Ohio, did unlawfully loiter and wander about a public place, beer place on Main Street, at Vinton Alley, without being able to give a satisfactory account of himself".

No Loitering signThe City of Columbus police officer testified that:

"... he saw the defendant at 276 East Main Street at 9:30 P. M., sitting with the man now indicated as his attorney, and with a girl, Helen Tipton, and two other men, one of whom was Miller, the proprietor of the place.... The police officer testifies that Helen Tipton was a woman of bad repute (and) that he stepped to the door of the cafe and motioned the defendant to come to the door, which he did, together with his attorney.

"Both defendant and the attorney protested against the action of the officer, claiming that the defendant and the attorney were simply quietly in the cafe, conversing on business matters. As to his loitering ..., the officer testified that the defendant had hung around the vicinity for the past four years; that he was never gainfully employed except for a certain short period; that he frequently saw him at the cafe in question, that being his hang-out."

The Court noted that:

"To loiter means to be dilatory, to stand idly around, to spend time idly .... to be slow in moving; to delay; to linger; to spend time idly."

In the result, Aldrich was acquitted by the Court because:

"If, however, a period of four minutes' consultation in a barroom would constitute loitering, and thereby make him in the words of the statute ‘a suspicious person’ the career of such an individual would be subject to constant harassment by an officer who may have taken a dislike to him, and may wish to rid his beat of his presence. The freedom of locomotion and choice of companions is not to be interfered with unless the provisions of the ordinance have been proved."

As an example from contemporary American statute law, and from the Kentucky Revised Statutes, Chapter 525, §90 (edited version):

"A person is guilty of loitering when he ... remains in or about a school, college or university building or grounds, not having any reason or relationship involving custody of or responsibility for a pupil or student or any other specific legitimate reason for being there and not having written permission from anyone authorized to grant the same; or ... remains in any transportation facility, unless specifically authorized to do so, for the purpose of soliciting or engaging in any business, trade or commercial transactions involving the sale of merchandise or services."

In Canada, the Criminal Code recognizes and punishes the offence as follows (§175):

"Every one who ...loiters in a public place ... is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction."


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