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Legal Challenges to Juvenile Curfew Laws

Juvenile curfew laws are laws passed at the state or local level that prohibit people of a certain age (usually under 18) from being in public or at public businesses between certain hours, typically at night. Communities justify these laws as combating juvenile crime and preserving the social order.

Penalties for curfew violations vary, but tend to amount to a fine, community service, drivers license restrictions, and jail or juvenile detention. Penalties may be enforced against the parents as well as the juvenile. Exceptions permitting juveniles to engage in adult-supervised activities, school, religious events, or work are common. Violations arising due to an emergency are not typically penalized.

Enforcement Discretion

Many jurisdictions have authorized law enforcement to exercise a considerable amount of discretion in the enforcement and punishment of juvenile curfew violations. Instead of arresting or citing violators the police may issue a warning, recommend counseling, inform the parents, or escort the juvenile home. On the other hand, some jurisdictions take curfew laws very seriously and police may perform "curfew sweeps" where teams of officers canvass an area and arrest violators en masse.

In recent years, a number of local juvenile curfew laws have been challenged on the grounds that the laws violate the First Amendment and other guarantees provided under U.S. and state constitutions. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights groups have played an active role in these challenges -- cases that have hinged on both the wording of juvenile curfew statutes, and the manner in which the curfew statutes have been enforced by law enforcement officers.

Challenges Overview

For example, in recent years, the juvenile curfew laws in a number of U.S. cities have been challenged -- and in some instances, overturned by courts -- based on the following legal arguments:

  • Under a juvenile curfew law's "exceptions" -- which identify the circumstances under which a minor would not be subject to the curfew law) -- it is too difficult to tell whether certain activities are permitted or prohibited. In legal terms, the argument is that the juvenile curfew statute is "unconstitutionally vague".
  • A juvenile curfew law that does not provide a "parental permission" exception constitutes unwarranted government interference with parents' rights to control the upbringing of their children.
  • A juvenile curfew is unconstitutional in its enforcement because police officers are targeting juveniles based on race.
  • A juvenile curfew law amounts to the unlawful imposition of martial law, and violates constitutional rights to free interstate travel.

Attempts have been made to overturn curfew laws on a constitutional basis. Opponants have characterized curfew laws as violating the constitutional right to freedom of assembly, but it is well established that laws may impede this right as long as they are reasonably designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the community. Because juvenile curfew laws single out the young, they have been attacked as age-discriminatory, however, courts have consistently upheld juvenile curfew ordinances.

Have Your Case Reviewed for Free by a Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or your child have been arrested or cited for a juvenile curfew law, you'll want to know your rights. Curfew cases can sometimes be challenged on the basis of unlawful arrest, racial profiling, or more. While every case is different, it will be important to know your options before agreeing to a plea bargain or pleading guilty. Contact a skilled criminal defense lawyer for a free case review.

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