Last updated: 08:03 PM ET, Sat May 30 2015

Tourists Caught Up in Honolulu Homeless Crackdown

Impacting Travel | Michael Isenbek | May 30, 2015

Tourists Caught Up in Honolulu Homeless Crackdown

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Closing Waikiki’s beaches at midnight was supposed to be Honolulu’s solution for keeping the homeless from staying overnight, but it’s caused some visiting tourists big legal problems, according to Hawaii News Now (HNN).

Punishment for being caught in a Waikiki shorefront park after midnight is a criminal citation, and the City Prosecutors Office told HNN that 20 percent of issued citations, one in five, go to visitors. This is a criminal charge with a mandatory court appearance, which puts visitors, many coming from far away, in a difficult spot.

Jalisa Jose and a group of friends from Idaho were on the famous Queen's Beach at Waikiki around 2 a.m. this past March, celebrating her birthday and spring break. She told HNN that police officers approached them, and wrote a citation.

She said they didn't know they were breaking the law at that moment, even though signs are posted every 50 yards along the road that runs parallel to the beach.

"A couple nights before we were on a beach where it was okay to be on late at night so we didn't really know," she told HNN from her home in Lewiston, Idaho.

Her court date was May 27, which she missed, and that could result in a criminal warrant. One of her friends wrote to the court asking if she could plead guilty by mail.

There is no easy resolution for citation-issued tourists. Hiring an attorney is an option, as is asking to plead guilty by mail, but fighting the charges is difficult because you have to actually be in the courtroom for the trial.

Attorney Victor Bakke has helped a number of tourists that have been issued citations, and pointed out to HNN that the situation is even more difficult for non-U.S. citizens. There will still be a mark on the person’s record even if they pay the fine, "so if customs finds the criminal violation they could actually be refused entry into the country,” Bakke said.

The police department told HNN that simple warnings are given, but they can't make exceptions just for visitors.

"They have the absolute discretion (whether or not to issue a citation),” Bakke said. “It's my understanding though that the policy is not to exercise that discretion, because they don't want to look like they are discriminating against the homeless people," Bakke said.

The mayor's office echoed the police department’s assertion that visitors can’t be the exception to the rule. Spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke told HNN, "Police have to enforce the laws equally against everyone. They don't target homeless in park closure enforcements."

According to HNN, there have been tourists that have told attorneys and court workers they are so upset that they will never return to the area.

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