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Urinating in Public "Discarding or Depositing Any Rubbish, Trash, Garbage, Debris or Other Refuse"

Oregon law apparently doesn't ban public urination -- but it does ban littering, especially when it "create[s] an objectionable stench."

Ryan Corcilius was therefore convicted on the theory that his urinating in public constitutes "offensive littering" -- but the Oregon Court of Appeals just reversed the conviction by a 2-to-1 vote, with the majority concluding that ordinary urination doesn't constitute "[d]iscarding or depositing any rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse." Here's a short excerpt from the quite long majority opinion:

"Discard" means "to drop, dismiss, let go, or get rid of as no longer useful, valuable, or pleasurable." Webster's Third New Int'l Dictionary 644 (unabridged ed 2002) (emphasis added). The act of urination, however, is a bodily function in which urine is eliminated; it does not function to get rid of something that is "no longer useful, valuable, or pleasurable." That is, urine is not something formerly useful that one chooses to get rid of. Rather, one discharges urine, rather than discarding it. See id. at 2522 (defining "urinate" as to "discharge urine"). Hence, the ordinary meaning of "discarding" does not include the act of urinating.

If the act of urinating is not an act of "discarding," then is it an act of "depositing"? The definition for "deposit" has multiple senses, and, because the state characterizes urinating as a "natural process," it posits that the best sense of "deposit" is the one that means "to lay down or let fall or drop by a natural process." Id. at 605. That sense of the word, however, is ill-suited to the act of urination and not the way we would expect the legislature to describe that act. The illustrations for that sense of the word are: "the intervening seasons had deposited a thick layer of refuse over the vacant lot"; "the wind deposited a film of dust over the furniture"; and "in ... hogs fed on copra ... the cocoanut oil globules had been deposited by nature in the tissues—V. G. Heiser." (Emphases in original.) Id. Those illustrations suggest a natural process that is often gradual and not a result of an individual's personal act, very unlike the process of urination. Again, we doubt that the legislature would have understood terms more commonly associated with littering to capture the act of public urination.

And an excerpt from the dissent (which is also long):

Taking into account the statutory terms' broad dictionary definitions, along with the legislature's use of the word "any," I conclude that the common characteristic of all the statutory terms—including the general term "other refuse"—is that they describe, in varying ways and with different emphases, material that lacks value or is "waste."

I turn to a consideration of statutory context. Significantly, the legislature has specified that a person's improper discarding or depositing of refuse constitutes offensive littering only if it "creates an objectionable stench or degrades the beauty or appearance of property or detracts from the natural cleanliness or safety of property." The majority focuses on dictionary definitions that describe items or objects that may constitute "rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse." But the legislature's attention to offensive smells and lack of cleanliness strongly suggest that it was not concerned only with the improper discarding of those kinds of objects. Smells and uncleanliness often are associated with liquid materials, even (or perhaps particu-larly) those liquids—like urine—that may dry and leave an offensive and unsanitary residue. That context, too, leads me to conclude that the term "refuse" should be construed broadly to include any waste material that is susceptible to being improperly discarded or deposited in a way that causes uncleanliness or an objectionable stench.

Finally, here are the undisputed facts:

Defendant was on a cross-country road trip and, coming from California, stopped in downtown Portland late in the day. By the time he got to Portland and parked, it was already an "emergency" for him to use a restroom. He attempted to use a gas station restroom, but was informed that it was not available to the public. He then tried a Subway restaurant, but that restroom was available only to paying customers and the line for sandwiches was long. He began to panic because of the intense pressure of having to urinate. He found a spot that he believed was secluded and urinated on the side of a building.

Sam, employed by a private security company engaged by local businesses to help enforce city ordinances and assist with nonemergency situations, saw defendant urinate and observed the urine flowing across the sidewalk toward the street. Sam knew it was urine because of the stench. Sam approached defendant, and defendant responded, "I couldn't find a better spot." Sam then radioed a police officer, who arrived shortly thereafter and issued defendant a citation for misdemeanor offensive littering, a Class C misdemeanor

Note that some Oregon cities have ordinances expressly banning public urination, but I couldn't find any Oregon state statute that does so.

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  • Eddy||

    Is there some common-law offense which covers this?

    If there were, it would be an issue of citing him under the wrong law.

  • BillyG||

    I know of one cop that was citing people under "public exposure" laws. Conviction of which meant one was declared a sex offender.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    I have to say that, in my experience, unless you have some sort of infection, or a really strange diet, fresh urine has very little odor, let alone "stench". It can get pretty smelly after bacteria have had a chance to get at it and start fermenting the nitrogen compounds, but not immediately on being discharged.

    IOW, Sam probably committed perjury.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Another thing that can cause strong urine is dehydration. This results in a higher concentration of uric acid in the urine, resulting in among other thing, lower PH and darker color.

  • Bob from Ohio||

    "Sam probably committed perjury."

    Look at his job description. A paid busybody.

  • BadLib||

    March, Portland.

    Probably washed away and highly diluted before the bacteria has made much progress on fermentation.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    I forgot to mention earlier. even without bacterial fermentation, uric acid, the main waste product in urine decays into ammonia which definitely has a strong odor.

  • Gasman||

    "...but it does ban littering, especially when it "create[s] an objectionable stench."

    Asparagus perhaps?
    But not everyone can smell that.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Yeah, asparagus odor shows up pretty clearly in urine, so do many spices, garlic, ginger.

    But "stench" was almost certainly a prejudicial lie.

  • Bob from Ohio||

    The dissent is terrible.

    Who calls urine "refuse"? It is certainly not part of the ordinary definition of "refuse".

  • Brett Bellmore||

    The common character of all the listed words, is that they typically relate to solid wastes. Things which will hang around after you've left.

  • Lee Moore||

    I find the majority's analysis of "deposit" more than a little strained.

    Folk who made a ton of money from guano deposits called them.....guano deposits. And "I came outside and found pigeon deposits all over my windscreen."

    Bodily waste can certainly be deposited. It's a finer question as to whether bodily waste is referred to as refuse, but I'd be surprised if no such usage could be found.

    Looks to me like one of those decision first, reasoning second, judgements.

  • KevinP||

    Public Service Announcement from someone with experience:

    If you have to pee outside a restroom, try very hard to avoid any hard surface like a building or pavement. The pee stays there, stains and smells.

    Instead, try to find some vegetation or even a piece of dirt will do. It will get absorbed into the biosphere and the plant will thank you.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    That is excellent advice, especially for courteous people.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    My son used to run behind bushes, he called them "expedient peeing stations."

    We did have to point out that a 6" bush wasn't going to cut it if we were in public, and eventually he shifted to the "give me some privacy!" phase, and insisted on finding a bathroom.

    Indeed, find some dirt, so it sinks in.

  • Rossami||

    It seems to me that both the majority and the dissent are straining here. The wordsmithing over "discarding" or "depositing" seems like a stretch. It seems like an easier argument would have been to ask if "the legislature really intended urine to be covered under "any rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse" - a list that would not seem to include most liquids and certainly no natural liquids. Unless they plan to charge every coyote that pees in the woods with the same Class C misdemeanor?

  • Marko||

    In general, the pouring-out of a liquid would be less defiling than plastic/paper litter that just lays there or blows around. Might it be that public urine falls in the same category as poured-out coffee or soda?

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Might it be that they could have cut a guy a break? Well, given all the stories I've heard of people becoming registered sex offenders for taking a wiz, I guess they did.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    I don't know about urine, but the stench of patriarchy sure is redolent in these comments.

  • nonzenze||

    Talk about straining.

    [ OK seriously, the legislature can just pass a (*^&@$ law clarifying their intent here. How many angels can piss on a needle? ]

  • Michael Cook||

    Take advice from an old person. When traveling or even venturing into unfamiliar urban territory wear depends (and dark pants.) There are a lot of neighborhoods anymore I wouldn't risk going into an unfamiliar convenience store to use a unisex bathroom with a broken door lock that is likely filthy.

    Now both males and females with bad commutes in autos should be able to purchase on-line or in larger drug stores the anatomically shaped plastic piss containers that work great if you are reasonably agile. We carry a small throw blanket in the car as well.

    I do a lot of trail hiking. The only trick there is to avoid trails that are too void of vegetation and too popular, especially with bicyclists because they can be on you before you know it.

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