So there seems to have been some confusion of late about whether it is actually illegal to litter in D.C.

One commentator at Prince of Petworth wrote recently:

Did you know the city does not have a litter law? Yep thats right if you toss trash the street in front of a cop, they can’t do anything! The only law on the books is illegal to through trash from a moving vehicle. Apparently though, you can pull over and shovel trash out of your car on the curb and it is perfectly legal.

But just to clarify…it isn’t.

A long-running problem for police, when it came to litterers on foot, was one of identity. Littering is a civil violation, not a criminal one, so the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) had no way to force a pedestrian caught throwing wrappers or cigarette butts into the street to provide valid identification (officers were only able to do that for civil traffic offenses). So, anybody stopped could just identify himself as Marion Barry, say, and go on their merry way.

Then, back in April 2009, the Anti-Littering Amendment Act of 2008 finally went into effect. It mainly targeted drivers who throw stuff from their vehicles and, as City Paper reported, police enforce that side of it.

But here’s the main point: It also covers pedestrians, who are now legally obliged to provide their true name and address. While the law is in effect, it has not been enforced yet, according to the MPD.

The MPD say that they are “working with the Office of Administrative Hearings on finalizing the citation process for proper adjudication once the tickets are issued.” (How the citation process for pedestrians differs from the process for drivers is a mystery.)

In any case, drivers who litter face a fine of $100. Pedestrians have to shell out $75, or between $100 and $250 if they continue to refuse to identify themselves.

Still, there are lingering questions. Another commentator at Prince of Petworth wanted to know:

if I pull my car over, pee in a cup, and place the cup in a treebox, there’s nothing the police can do, right? And the same goes for Number Twos? Because, technically, that’s not public urinating/defecating; also, since I’m doing it in my own car, there’s the whole property rights/privacy thing going on.

Unfortunately the amendment act was missing a paragraph on this, so I guess there’s only one way to find out. I’d consider it a public service if you give it a try, and let us know how it goes…

Photo by Darrow Montgomery