Constitutionality of dress code to be addressed in District Court

A legal tangle over "biker colors" that began with a simple speeding citation is headed for a constitutional challenge in District Court, Carson City Judicial Court Judge Robey Willis ruled Friday.

Cited for speeding, Steven Dominguez was arraigned in Carson City Justice Court March 9 and showed up with a friend, Scot Banks. Both are members of the Branded Few motorcycle club and were wearing decorated motorcycle vests. After they were told they could not wear their vests in the court room, they refused to leave and were arrested for trespassing.

The plot thickened when, on March 26 during Dominguez and Banks arraignment for trespassing, 50 supporters showed up in their "biker colors." Ten of those were cited for trespassing. All 12 were represented by attorneys Kevin Karp and Don Evans during Friday's hearing.

Willis said Nevada's District Court should first determine the constitutionality of Carson City's Municipal Code before the trespass charges are considered at the justice court level.

Karp and Evans requested the misdemeanor trespassing charges against the 12 be heard after the constitutionality of the city's code is tested in District Court.

Carson City court room dress code states anyone wearing clothing showing an affiliation to street gangs, biker or similar groups will not be allowed in the court room.

Karp, who represented 11 of the defendants, said after the hearing this is a policy, not a law. He said no one in the group offered any resistance nor caused any problems.

"This law goes back to the 1950s assumption that if you ride a Harley, you're a criminal," Karp said. "I think the people involved in writing and enforcing this dress code didn't anticipate some of the people that would be affected by it."

Carson City District Attorney Noel Waters argued the municipal court has the power to decide municipal cases and with that comes the inherent power to make decisions regarding constitutional issues. If the courts lacked that power they could not hear misdemeanor cases, such as driving under the influence cases, that involve issues regarding the validity of prior convictions.

The defendant was cited for trespassing in this case not because of the clothes he was wearing, but because he refused to leave, according to Waters. This motion will allow a federal district judge to decide Nevada law on trespass.

Evans said the motion does not challenge the ability to address constitutional matters. It addresses the constitutionality of the measure, which says anyone wearing clothing that shows an affiliation to street gangs, bikers, or similar groups will not be allowed in the court room.

The dress code is facing a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of 12 defendants and, based on today's ruling, will be transferred to Carson City's District Court.

If judged unconstitutional in the higher courts, it's likely the trespassing charges will be dropped according to Karp, who lauded Willis' decision.

"There is no question in my mind that Judge Willis did the right thing today," he said. "It may not have been the best move politically, but legally it was the right thing to do and it was a good thing to see."


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