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Aclu Set To Challenge Teen Curfew Test Case Possible If Auburn Passes Proposal Monday

A proposed curfew here offers a great chance for a legal challenge, opponents say.

“We’re licking our chops,” said Paul Nelson, who runs poetry readings called “slams” for teenagers every other Friday at the non-profit Spoken Word Lab.

If the City Council passes the curfew Monday night, Nelson said, “we’re going to have open mikes and encourage teens to hang out in open defiance of the curfew” after the poetry slam next Friday night.

“We’re looking for an arrest that would lead to a court case,” he said.

Nelson has support from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been looking for a test case. At least 30 municipalities in the state - including Tacoma, Yelm, Kent and Eatonville - have curfews.

Kent last month passed an ordinance refining its curfew law in hopes it will withstand a court challenge.

“We intend to bring a curfew case,” said Gerard Sheehan, state ACLU legislative director. “If Auburn wants to join the sweepstakes, they can certainly buy a ticket by passing the curfew.”

The Auburn proposal would bar anyone under 18 from being on the streets or in any business establishment between midnight and 6 a.m. Offenders, and possibly parents or guardians, would face a $100 fine for a first offense and up to $250 on subsequent offenses.

Exceptions would be allowed for juveniles “exercising First Amendment rights,” running errands for their parents or guardians or going to or from activities sponsored and supervised by adults.

“It’s meant to keep kids safe from themselves,” said council member Jeanne Barber, a principal backer of the measure.

Court rulings have been mixed. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently rejected a challenge to a Dallas curfew, but a curfew in San Diego was struck down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Washington state Court of Appeals upheld a challenge to Bellingham’s curfew in June.

“They can’t prove a direct relationship to the reduction of crime,” Sheehan said. “No place in the state that has sought to protect its curfew has succeeded in doing so.”