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The Cleveland Street Chronicle
Jim Schlecht Event

Know Your Legal Rights

We want people to be aware of their rights on the streets. The "Know Your Legal Rights Brochure" was created as a useful tool to educate people on their rights in the City of Cleveland, and also includes the "Shelter Bill of Rights".

(Download a Copy of the Brochure as a PDF)
Jump to page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12


Page 1

A criminal record poses one more barrier to successfully gaining housing
and employment. So it is critical to understand the laws affecting your life
on the streets, rights when interacting with the police, and the legal advice
available in your community. Within this brochure you will find that information,
along with The Homeless Bill of Rights in Northeast Ohio, which
serves as an advocacy agenda for the community.

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Note: The information contained within this brochure provides only general information
to assist you; it is not a substitue for legal advice from an attorney.


Everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, national orgin, political affiliation, or housing status, has the right to:

  • Vote, if 18 or older. However, you are required to present valid state identification when voting in person on Election Day.
  • Travel about freely.
  • Freedom of religion.
  • Free speech (to hold and express opinions freely, so long as you do not threaten others, incite violent reactions, or disturb the peace). Note: it is never a good idea to argue with law enforcement officers.
  • Privacy (to be secure in your home and person wfrom unreasonable searches and seizures; to marry; to use contraception or have an abortion; to engage in consenting sexual relations with other adults if no money is exchanged; to live with related family members in the same household). A resonable expectation of privacy applies to your property even if you are sleeping or living on the street.
  • Use public facilities (such as libraries and parks) on days and hours when they are avaiable to general public and, if disabled, to be reasonably accommodated.
  • Remain silent and have counsel when questioned by police officers, whether or not you have been read your Miranda rights.
  • Refuse medical treatment or chemical tests of any kind. you can also refuse to undergo a breathalyzer, urine, or blood test when pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, but your driver's license will be suspended immediately. In some circumstances
  • To challenge, in writing, your involuntary commitment to a hospital or mental facility and recieve a hearing within 3 business days with an attorney present; you must be released if the judge determines that you do not require emergency treatment and do not pose a danger to yourself or others.
  • Recieve state and federal benefits (welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, Medicare, social security disability insurance, supplemental security income, etc.) if you qualify, and to have your clain adjudicated at a hearing.
  • Your access to housing cannot be denied on the basis of your race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, martial status, pregnancy, or ancestry.


  • Petition the Court for a Domestic Violence Civil Protection order if the Respondent physically hourts or attemps to hurt or threatens to hurt you and or any member of your household.
  • "Family or household member" means any of the following who is residing or had resided with the offender.
  • In addition to persons who are living or have lived together, persons who have a child in common are covered by the domestic violence laws regardless of whether they have ever lived together or cohabited.
  • Same-sex couples qualify as family or household members. Therefore, the victim of violence in a same-sex relationship can be filed domestic violence charges or seek a domestic violence protection order.


  • A transgender person's experience with sexual orientation or gender identity housing discrimination is covered by the federal and state fair housing laws.
  • A transgender person should live in a shelter that corresponds to his or her gender identity. There is no rule that a person must look a certain way to live in a shelter.
  • The Affordable Care Act of 2010 prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded health care facilities, ad in 2012 the federal Department of Health and Human Services clarified that this includes discrimination based on transgender status.



  • Be polite and respectful. Stay calm. Don’t complain on the scene or
    tell the police they are wrong or that you’re going to file a complaint. If
    you feel your rights have been violated, file a written complaint with the
    police department’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.
  • Keep your hands where the police can see them. Don’t touch or move towards the
    police officer.
  • If you argue with police or resist arrest, they are likely to arrest you and bring more
    charges against you.
  • Know the name or badge number of the officer involved, along with
    the patrol car number. If ticketed, the officer’s number will be on the
    ticket; if arrested, it should be on the police report.
  • Police do not have to read you your Miranda rights at the time of
    arrest, nor do they have to formally announce that you are being
  • You don’t have to show police your ID (unless pulled over while
    driving), but the police have the right to take you in until you have been
    identified. Once they have your ID, they can run a warrant check.
  • Try and find witnesses and their names and phone numbers.

Police Conduct 3 Types of Stops:
1) casual encounter = The officer is ‘inviting’ you to talk; ask, “Am I free to go?” If not, you are being detained.

2) detention = The officer has ‘reasonable suspicion;’ ask the reason for detainment. It could be useful to you later if arrested. However, the officer does not legally have to tell you the reason.

3) arrest = The officer has ‘probable cause’ to believe you committed a crime.


  • If the crime you are arrested for has possible jail time as punishment,
    and you can’t afford an attorney, you have the right to have one appointed
    to you before questioning. Ask police how the lawyer can be
  • You have the right to remain silent. You can refuse to answer any
    question if it would incriminate you.


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  • If arrested for an infraction (eg: jaywalking) or being detained, you may get a pat down for weapons, but you should not be searched. In a pat down, they may not remove items, even if they believe they are contraband, that don’t appear to be weapons.
  • Once you are arrested, they have the power to search you, your "immediate
    surroundings," and your car if you had been drinking.
  • If you are arrested illegally, some evidence from the search may still be admissible
    in court and if you have outstanding warrants for other charges, you
    can be detained on those.
  • The officer must show you the warrant within a reasonable time after arrest
    and give you a copy.
  • You have the right to refuse any physical or chemical test. An exception comes up when you are stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence. Refusing to take a breath test or blood test results in an immediate license suspension.
  • With a reasonable time after your arrest or booking, you have a right to make a local telephone call to a lawyer, bail bondsman, relative or any other person.
  • You have the right to appear before a judge on the next court day for hearing on release on bond or without bail. You may ask the judge to lower your bail or to be released “on your own recognizance” (without bail). Present to the judge reasons why you should not remain in jail pending trial.

Within 48 hours of arrest, the judge must:
1) tell you the crime you’re accused of committing.

2) give you a copy of the written complaint.

3) give you a continuance (more time) to get an attorney or have one appointed.

4) tell you the nature and effect of pleas you may enter:
     a. not guilty = don’t give up any rights, including right to a speedy trial
     b. no contest = admit the facts in the complaint are true, but deny guilt
     c. guilty = admit to the crimes and give up your right to a trial and to remain
silent; a guilty plea may lay the foundation for a harsher punishment if later
convicted of another offense.

5) Set a bail.

6) Schedule a prelimiary hearing in a felony case
If you cannont afford an attorney, ask the court to appoint a lawyer for you.


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The following are all misdemeanor offenses that may be applicable and important to know:

Use of Parks 559.01: No person shall be permitted to make use of public parks for any purpose not practically common to all and not in consonance with the proper use of the park. No person shall in any of the parks or in any refectory, restaurant, building or place on the same, solicit fares, or beg or publicly solicit subscriptions or make any oration, harangue, demonstration, or address.

Behavior in Parks 559.45: Sleeping or protracted lounging on the seats or benches, or loud, boisterous, threatening or abusive, insulting or indecent language, or disorderly conduct or behavior, or any act tending to a breach of the public peace is strictly prohibited.

Use or Sale of Intoxicating Liquor 559.46: No person shall take into or upon any park any intoxicating liquor, either for sale to another or for his own use, or for the use of others; nor shall any person sell, give away or dispose of any intoxicating liquors in or upon any park. No intoxicated person shall be allowed to enter or remain within any of the parks.

Trespass on City Recreational Facilities 559.53: No person shall trespass, loiter or remain in the building or upon the grounds of a recreational facility of the city between the hours of 9:00 PM and 8:00 AM unless authorized by the Director. Fined $75, if 2nd offense, misdemeanor of 4th degree.

Disorderly Conduct 605.03: No person shall recklessly cause inconvenience, annoyance or alarm to another. Includes: engaging in fighting, making unreasonable noise, hindering the movement of persons on a public street. Minor misdemeanor. If persists in conduct after warning, misdemeanor of 1st degree.

Unlawful Congregation 605.09: No person shall congregate with others on the sidewalk, street corner or within the parks or public grounds, with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or whereby a breach of the
peace may be occasioned by the serious annoyance to pedestrians or by threatening, insulting or abusive conduct, and refuse to move on when ordered by a police officer. Misdemeanor of 1st degree.


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Public Intoxication 605.13: No person shall be in a state of public intoxication or, being intoxicated, disturb the peace, good order and quiet of the City. Minor misdemeanor.

Resisting Arrest 615. 08: No person, recklessly or by force, shall resist or interfere with a lawful arrest of himself or another. Misdemeanor of the 2nd degree.

Open Container Prohibited 617.07: No person shall have in his possession an opened container of beer or intoxicating liquor in any public place. Minor misdemeanor.

Public Indecency 619.07: No person shall recklessly expose his private parts, engage in masturbation, or any other sexual conduct which is likely to be viewed by and affront others who are not members of his household. Misdemeanor of 4th degree if 1st offense.

Loitering 619.11: No person shall remain or wander about in a public place and repeatedly beckon to, or repeatedly attempt to engage passersby in conversation, or repeatedly interfere with the free passage of other
persons for the purpose of prostitution or drug activity. Loitering for purpose of prostitution is a misdemeanor of 1st degree

Criminal Trespass 623.04: No person shall knowingly enter or remain on the land or premises of another which is lawfully restricted to certain persons, purposes, and hours by communicating to the offender by posting, sign, fence, or other restricted access. Misdemeanor of 4 th degree. No person shall enter or remain in any vacant building or structure without having permission of the owner. Misdemeanor 1st degree.

Unauthorized Use of Property 625.10: No person shall knowingly use or operate the property of another without the consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent. Misdemeanor of 1st degree.

Offense / Max Jail Time / Max Fine
1st degree / 6 months / $1000
2nd degree / 90 days / $750
3rd degree / 60 days / $500
4th degree / 30 days / $250
Minor / no imprisonment / $100


Page 6

The following are codes that may apply to a complaint you have
against another person:

Disposition of Property Held by the Division of Police 601.14:
The Division shall make a reasonable effort to locate the persons entitled to possession of property in its custody, that has been lost, abandoned, stolen or lawfully seized or forfeited, and to notify them when and where it may be claimed. If the possessor is not known, it is sufficient notice to advertise in a newspaper of general circulation in the County, briefly describing the nature of the property in custody and inviting persons to view and establish their right to it.

Dereliction of Duty 615.12: No officer, having charge of a detention facility, shall negligently do any of the following: allow the detention facility to become littered or unsanitary, fail to provide persons confined in the detention facility with adequate food, clothing, bedding, shelter and medical attention, or fail to control an unruly prisoner, or to prevent intimidation of or physical harm to a prisoner by another.

Interfering with Civil Rights 615.13: No public servant, under color of his office, employment, or authority, shall knowingly deprive, conspire, or attempt to deprive any person of a constitutional or statutory right. Misdemeanor of 1st degree.

Unlawful Restraint 621.08: No person, without privilege to do so, shall knowingly restrain another of his liberty. Misdemeanor of 3rd degree.

Fair Employment Practices Chapter 661: No employers, employees, labor union, or employment agencies shall discriminate against any person solely on the grounds of race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation,
national origin, age, disability, ethnic group or Vietnam-era or disabled veteran status with regard to hire, discharge, tenure, upgrading, terms or conditions of employment or union membership. Administration of this chapter is responsibility of the Community Relations Board, in cooperation with the Office of Equal Opportunity.


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Fair Housing Chapter 665: It is unlawful to refuse to sell, transfer, assign, rent, or finance housing accommodations or change terms and conditions because of race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, ethnic group or Vietnam-era or disabled veteran status of any prospective user of the housing. You may file a complaint in writing and under oath with the Fair Housing Review Board, stating the name and address of the person alleged to have committed the violation.

Discrimination in Public Accommodation 667.01: No person, being the proprietor of a business, shall deny to a citizen, except for reasons applicable to all citizens, the full enjoyment of the accommodations, and no person shall aid the denial. Whoever violates this code shall be subject to the revocation of their license.

Suspension and Revocation Procedure 670.22:
A person may file, in writing, with the Chief of Police, a complaint against a private security service or an armed security guard, or both, which alleges that they committed an act which constitutes grounds for suspension or revocation of the license. Grounds include a conviction involving the use or threat of force or violence against a person or an offense involving moral turpitude, giving false statement to a law enforcement officer, or giving false testimony or perjury.

In a lawsuit against the City of Cleveland settled in 1999, the City, through its Police Department, agreed not to “arrest, or threaten to arrest or detain, any individuals, including homeless individiuals for performing innocent, harmeless, inoffensive acts such as sleeping, eating , lying, or sitting in or on public property.” The agreement does not prevent the City from arresting an individual for criminal activity or from enforecing existing City Ordinances.  Here is a copy of the settlement document.


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You can access your criminal record at the Justice Center at 1300 Ontario St., which has free computers to look up misdemeanors and felonies.The county also has a link from its website where you may search for only felony records. Click on “Criminal Docket” and search by case number or name. You can also look at the county website from any computer with an internet connection.This includes computers at the local public library. Ask the librarian for assistance. If you are convicted of a crime, it’s very important to know what the crime was, what court you were in, and the case number.

Expungement is a legal process that allows you to clear a conviction or arrest records from your criminal record. Some crimes, including murder, rape, vehicular homicide, and armed crimes, can never be expunged. Once a conviction is successfully expunged, you do not have to disclose that information when applying for employment or housing. Qualifications for expungement are rather strict; to be eligible for expungement, you must be a first time offender, have no pending criminal charges at the time of request, have been rehabilitated, and allowed a certain amount of time to pass between conviction and requesting expungement. That time period is one year for misdemeanors and three years off probation, parole, or straight release for felonies. The first step towards expungement is to seek cousel to see if you are eligable to file an expungement motion. If you are an eligable offender then you may file a Motion for Expungement in the court you were convicted in and pay the filing fee. If you are a low-income person, you may file a poverty affidavit instead. For assistance in filling an expungement application, contact the Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program, 216-635-0768. CHLAP can also help you get your records or refer you to the Public Defender for assistance. The Public Defender has a session every Thursday from 1-4 to help with completing the application.

If you were arrested and you are never formally charged, the charges were dismissed or you were found not guilty, you can ask the court to seal the arrest record. This does not count against your ability to file for an expungement. Contact the Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program for help.

Clerk of Courts: Criminal 216/443-7999, Civil 216/443-7950
Public Defender: 216/443-7223
Municipal Clerk of Courts (for misdemeanors): 216/664-4790
Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program: 216/432-0543


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Note: This i s not a legally binding document; it is an advocacy agenda developed by speaking with homeless people about their concerns over the course of a year.

The right of homeless persons to:


  1. Programs and s ervices that lead to long-term, “out of homelessness and poverty” solutions, including programs and services for families that promote cohesion and do not require family break-up in order for family members to receive services.
  2. Active homele ss participation in the developm ent, im plement ation, and oversight of policies and programs that directly or indirectly impact them.
  3. Honest, accurate and timely information on programs and services.
  4. Be treated with dignity, respect, and equality by all, including shelter and service providers and all b ranches of government.


  1. Decent and safe emergency facilities, including a day-time shelter.
  2. Transitional hous ing and attendant social and medical serv ic es, as ne eded.
  3. Decent, saf e and affordable permanent housing.

Medical Care

  1. Emergency and routine medical care on the streets and in medical facilities.
  2. Alcohol and drug residen tial treatment on demand.
  3. Bathroom facilities available 24 hours a day.
  4. Sufficient stays in medical facilities so that healing occurs before release.
  5. Effective follow-up or after-care medical care in a secure and stable environment, especially for persons with drug addiction.
  6. Access to pr escripti on drugs, as needed.
  7. Proper nutrition to ensure a healthy existence.
  8. Maintenance and updating of patient records (with built-in confidentiality for security of records to all homeless people including youth).

Employment and Training

  1. Job training and job counseling.
  2. Job opportunities and placement (including supportive services, as needed) that provides a livable wage.
  3. An Income Safety net for those unable to find work or those without the ability to work provided by the government for all people with yearly cost of living increases.
  4. The elimination of barriers to unionize for collective bargaining purposes especially for welfare/workfare workers and temporary labor employees.

 Legal Protection

  1. Equal enforcement of the law and the elimination of existing laws that, in practice, target ho me less persons.
  2. Effective federal monitoring of homeless civil rights violations.
  3. Clear and certain separation between the criminal justice system and service agencies in the provis ion of benefits.
  4. Confidentiality and privacy in the provision of benefits and services.


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Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program
P.O. Box 93061
Cleveland, OH 44101-5061
*Areas of law: housing, family, consumer, employment, Social Security disability and SSI benefits, expungements, general legal questions. No criminal cases; contact the Public Defender for assistance. Go to the NEOCH website to find the location of the next intake session where you can talk to a lawyer.



Case Western Reserve University
Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic
11075 East Blvd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
*Handles a variety: criminal misdemeanors, expungement of conviction or record, landlord/tenant dispute, domestic relations cases, wills, name change, social security disability. Does not handle criminal felony cases, appeals, and cases in small claims court.
*Call the clinic, will be placed on waiting list and called. No legal advice given over the phone. No walk-in appointments accepted.

ACLU of Ohio Foundation
4506 Chester Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44103
Attn: Intake Dept.
*Protect individuals’ constitutional rights and civil liberties *Send a one page description of the situation and a selfaddressed stamped envelope or fill out the complaint form at & you will be contacted by the ACLU
*No walk-in service or legal advice given over the phone.


Page 11

Cleveland Tenants Organization
3631 Perkins Ave.
Suite # 3A-4
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
*Provides information about the Ohio landlord and tenant laws to both parties.
*Call and advice will be given over the phone. No walk-ins.

Cleveland State University
Employment Law Clinic
1801 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44115

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
1223 W.6th St.
Cleveland, Ohio 44113
*Areas of law: housing, consumer, employment, benefits, family, income tax, and older persons
*downtown office provides walkin service from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. & 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

*Handles cases involving wrongful discharge, unemployment compensation, and unfair treatment of an employee as a result of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, national origin, or handicap.
*Call for advice and/or referral. By appointment only, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Accept a limited number of case intakes.



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Throughout the country there have been an increasing number of incidents in which the civil rights of homeless people have been violated. Cities have passed laws targeting the homeless and have selectively enforced already existing laws against them. Such actions may be unconstitutional. Homeless people and advocates around the country have led successful legal campaigns to overturn such discriminatory practices. It is important to report any violations of your rights, police harassment, a violent crime against a homeless person, or mistreatment by service providers. To report a violation or for any other assistance, contact:

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless
3631 Perkins Ave.
Suite 3A-3
Cleveland, OH 44114 | neoch(at)neoch(dot)org

Brought to you by NEOCH, AmeriCorps*VISTA