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The Un-Constitution

Attorneys Push Back Against Bad Laws

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Once again, the city's Drug Free Zones and sit/lie rules are under scrutiny. For the past few years, the downtown blocks surrounding Pioneer Square have been an embattled turf; home to some of the most contested legal battles over constitutional freedoms. The so-called DFZ allows police to boot suspected drug dealers and users from the downtown area. Likewise, the sit/lie rules permit police to hustle along any person loitering on downtown streets. Civil rights attorneys have repeatedly complained that those rules are being used unfairly to chase away "undesirables"--like panhandlers and street kids.

Recently however, attorneys have been pushing back on these rules--getting both declared, at least temporarily, unconstitutional. A year ago, for example, the DFZ were struck down as unfair because they handed too much power to police officers--essentially skipping past due process requirements and transforming police into both judge and jury. But two days later, city council tweaked the rules to sidestep those legal concerns. Currently Judge Michael Marcus is drafting another legal opinion about whether the DFZ are being disproportionately applied to African American men. That case was heard a week ago.

Likewise, last July, circuit court judge Marilyn Litzenberger issued a lengthy legal opinion about why the sit/lie rules handed too much power over to the police--and, hence, were unconstitutional. Again, city council responded by re-drafting the rules in December to sidestep those pesky constitutional issues.

But now, starting this week, the slightly revised sit/lie rules are again enforceable. And again, it is likely that the issues about who the police can kick out of downtown will land in front of city council. Currently, council member Erik Sten is pushing for the city to coordinate an "aggressive effort" to deal with panhandlers. Contact Sten with comments and suggestions at 823-3589.

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