Portrait of Christopher G. Tiedeman

Tiedeman on the victimless crime of vagrancy (1900)

Found in: A Treatise on State and Federal Control of Persons and Property in the United States vol. 1

The American constitutional lawyer Christopher Tiedeman (1857-1903) argued that vagrancy might be a crime under statutory law but it was not an offense against the common law:


What is the tortious element in the act of vagrancy? Is it the act of listlessly wandering about the country, in America called “tramping?” Or is it idleness without visible means of support? Or is it both combined? Of course, the language of the particular statute, under which the proceeding for conviction is instituted, will determine the precise offense in that special case, but the offense is usually defined as above. If one does anything which directly produces an injury to the community, it is to be supposed that he can be prevented by appropriate legislation. While an idler running about the country is injurious to the State indirectly, in that such a person is not a producer, still it would not be claimed that he was thus inflicting so direct an injury upon the community as to subject him to the possibility of punishment. A man has a legal right to live a life of absolute idleness, if he chooses, provided he does not, in so living, violate some clear and well defined duty to the State. To produce something is not one of those duties, nor is it to have a fixed permanent home.