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In Arizona, One Man Faces Criminal Penalties for Cutting the Homeless’ Hair Without a License

| February 10, 2017

As the saying goes, good deeds never go unpunished.

A Tucson man is finding this out the hard way as he’s currently under investigation by Arizona’s State Board of Cosmetology for “giving free haircuts to homeless in the community” without a license to do so, according to Tucson News Now:

“Juan Carlos Montesdeoca has given dozens of free haircuts to the homeless at the Santa Rita Park over the past few months.


“Out of the kindness of my heart. Out of the memory of my mom, because she lost her hair,” Juan Carlos Montesdeoca said.


Montesdeoca thought he was doing a good deed for Tucson by offering the haircuts, a service many homeless hadn’t received in a long time.”

When Montesdeoca’s barbering and cosmetology school closed its doors last year, he “felt compelled to offer his services for free,” having been homeless himself at one point. However, this seemingly innocuous act of charity has run afoul of Arizona’s occupational licensing laws, which states that “a person shall not practice or attempt to practice barbering without a current barber license issued pursuant to this chapter.”

Violation of this section constitutes a Class 1 misdemeanor—the most serious non-felony offense in the state—which is punishable by up to six months in jail, 3 years of probation, and/or a $2,500 fine, usually depending on whether an individual has an existing criminal record. Put another way, performing a 15-minute haircut for an individual who may otherwise not have means to get one can be criminally punished at the same level as DUI, driving under a suspended license, or assault.

Although cases such as these don’t always attract the attention of the media or the public, for people like Montesdeoca, they’re all too common. I’ve written before about a similar licensing law that criminalized hair shampooing in Tennessee without a license, and how such instances appear to be little more than government’s way of erecting unnecessary barriers into the labor pool—forcing individuals to come hat-in-hand to seek leave to provide an honest living for themselves:

This case comes at a time when there is much debate about how to ease various barriers into the workforce—particularly for ex-offenders returning to society, but more broadly, for everyone else as well. It’s common for those who are sympathetic to a strong, centralized government to argue that they’re the ones who go to bat for “the little guy”; that government has a responsibility to leverage its influence to create desirable outcomes for the working poor, the disadvantaged, or indeed, ex-offenders. What’s ironic is that this very sentiment so often leads to policies that end up doing just the opposite. Ms. Pritchard, as a young, part time-working mother, is certainly someone that leftist policies have been purported to help but have actually handicapped instead, making it nigh on impossible for her to participate freely in a market and profession of her choosing.

In the case of Montesdeoca, he wasn’t even seeking remuneration for his haircuts. Instead, he’s simply providing a voluntary service to someone else who’s accepted it voluntarily—and who likely appreciates being able to save a ten-spot on a haircut that can instead be used to feed themselves. Arizona has rendered such arrangements not only under the jurisdiction of bureaucratic government, but deemed such unlicensed voluntarism as a criminal offense worthy of a potential trip to jail for six months. In light of such a potential penalty, it’s difficult to swallow claims by some that overcriminalization isn’t an issue that merits serious correction.

A question I posed in the shampooing case still obtains in this situation, as it does in every case where government requires people to first ask their permission in order to be productive: “Has society benefited by wielding criminal or regulatory statutes in such a manner?”

Arizona needs to answer this question, for the sake of Montesdeoca and everyone else who may one day lower someone’s ears free of charge, but face the hoosegow afterwards.


MICHAEL HAUGEN is a policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its Right on Crime initiative.

His work for the Foundation has focused primarily on criminal justice reform topics, particularly civil forfeiture, prison reform and justice reinvestment, mens rea reform, occupational licensing, and various law enforcement and privacy issues. He’s also written about federal corporate subsidies, school choice, and gun rights.

Haugen is a graduate of Eastern Washington University, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with Pre-Medicine Option, and a minor in Chemistry. He also holds an Associate of Arts degree in General Studies from North Idaho College. At EWU, he participated in academic research in a molecular microbiology laboratory for two years, investigating genetic virulence factors and pathophysiology in microbes.

His writing has appeared in National Review, The Hill, Townhall, Washington Examiner, Dallas Morning News, El Paso Times, Trib Talk, RedState, Ricochet, and Breitbart Texas.