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What are Curfew Laws?

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

We've all had experience with curfews: as the teenager rushing out of the house, or as the parent calling out "be home by midnight!" But in legal terms, curfews are more than just house rules that can result in a firm "you're grounded!" if violated. Curfews are also laws that effectively prohibit or limit the right to be out in public at certain times, or in some cases, require businesses to close their doors during certain hours.

There are three main types of curfew laws: juvenile curfew laws, emergency curfew laws, and business curfew laws. These are explained in more detail below.

Juvenile Curfew Laws

Juvenile curfew laws are typically enacted at the state and local level, and prohibit people of a certain age (usually under 18) from being in public or in a business establishment during certain hours (such as between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.). Goals behind these laws are frequently cited as maintenance of social order, and prevention of juvenile crime. Most

Not surprisingly, juvenile curfew laws are not without controversy and they can be legally challenged. Common defenses are on constitutional grounds as discriminatory on the basis of age. This type of challenge has not be effective, but other challenges based on unlawful arrest or racial profiling have been more effective.

Emergency Curfew Laws

Emergency curfews are usually temporary orders that are put in place -- by federal, state, or local government -- in response to a particular crisis, like a natural disaster or ongoing civil disturbance. A few examples of emergency curfews:

  • August 2008: The city of New Orleans instituted an emergency "dusk to dawn" curfew as Hurricane Gustav approached the Gulf Coast.
  • September 2008:¬†Houston instituted a midnight-to-6:00a.m. curfew as the city sought to clean up debris and repair power outages due to Hurricane Ike.
  • April 1992:¬†Authorities in Los Angeles imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and deployed the National Guard to help quell city-wide civil disturbances, after the acquittal of LAPD officers involved in the beating of Rodney King.

A city's laws may give the mayor the express power to take certain curfew-related actions in response to a local emergency. For example, the New York City Administrative Code authorizes the mayor of New York City to order curfews "including, but not limited to, the prohibition of or restrictions on pedestrian and vehicular movement, standing and parking, except for the provision of designated essential services such as fire, police and hospital services including the transportation of patients thereto, utility emergency repairs and emergency calls by physicians."

Business Curfews

Some cities have enacted business curfew laws that require businesses in densely-populated and/or high-crime areas to close during late-night hours, i.e. from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Typically, businesses curfews do not apply to late-night pharmacies and bars, but are applicable to restaurants, liquor stores, and other establishments where people may gather. Like juvenile curfew laws, often a city's business curfew law will remain on the books but be enforced only periodically, usually as a law enforcement response to an increased incidence of local crime and violence.

Talk to an Attorney About Your Curfew Law Questions

When cities struggle with public outcry over civil rights issues or natural disasters, they often pass and enforce curfew laws. If you want to know whether these laws apply to you, or if you've been charged with a crime, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can offer guidance on your situation and explain your defenses.

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