Juvenile Curfew Laws

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Curfew laws generally run counter to American constitutional principles of freedom and liberty. Consequently, the state's power to restrict the movements of its citizenry has been limited to times of civil unrest, crisis, or emergency and is justified by legitimate governmental concerns for the health, safety, and welfare of the community. Juvenile curfew laws, however, differ: usually there is no emergency; only a discrete segment of the population is affected; and the curfew may remain in effect for years. Public concern about juvenile delinquency and victimization has renewed support for curfew ordinances and has encouraged government officials, primarily at the local level, to enact curfews for youths.

Although curfew laws aimed at youths have proliferated, only a few juvenile curfew ordinances have been challenged in the courts. The Supreme Court has never ruled on the constitutionality of any juvenile curfew ordinance, but some state courts and a few lower federal courts have considered the issue. Most of these challenges are based on alleged violations of the first amendment rights of children and their parents to freedom of association, movement, and expression; the fourteenth amendment rights of children to equal protection of the laws, substantive due process, and procedural due process; and the Fourteenth Amendment rights of parents to parental autonomy and familial privacy. Unfortunately, the opinions do not clearly define the parameters of state authority to enact curfew ordinances, in part because the laws themselves vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, thus making it difficult to draw comparisons across cases.

Curfew opponents have had mixed success when challenging curfew ordinances on constitutional grounds. Most courts reject the equal protection claim that the state cannot treat minors differently because of their age or because a fundamental right is infringed; but even when a fundamental right is affected, some courts have upheld such regulations on the ground that the state has compelling interests in the protection of children and the reduction of juvenile crime. Of course, if no fundamental right is implicated then a substantive due process claim also will fail; some courts thus have rejected such a challenge on the ground that the curfew ordinance does not violate a fundamental right. If a fundamental right has been implicated, some courts have found the state's interest sufficiently compelling to warrant the intrusion while others have found the curfew unconstitutional. Similarly, First Amendment claims that the ordinances infringe on expressive or associative rights have been rejected because of the state's greater authority to regulate minors or the importance of the governmental interest, while others have been upheld.

Fourteenth Amendment challenges to curfew ordinances, however, have been upheld on the grounds that the laws are too vague and fail to apprise children and their parents of the prohibited conduct. vagueness challenges also have been sustained when the ordinances delegate too much legislative authority or discretion to those charged with enforcement of the laws. The Fourteenth Amendment claims of parents that juvenile curfew ordinances invade familial privacy and infringe on parental autonomy also have had some limited success, although the courts appear willing to permit some degree of governmental intrusion. The boundaries of state and parental power, however, remain uncertain as do the nature and extent of children's constitutional rights.

Katherine Hunt Federle


Federle, Katherine H. 1995 Children, Curfews, and the Constitution. Washington University Law Quarterly 73:1315–1368.

Jordan, Michael 1993 From the Constitutionality of Juvenile Curfew Ordinances to a Children's Agenda for the 1990's: Is It Really A Simple Matter of Supporting Family Values and Recognizing Fundamental Rights? St. Thomas Law Review 5:389–431.

Veilleux, Danny R. 1993 Annotation: Validity, Construction, and Effect of Juvenile Curfew Regulations. American Law Reports, 4th ed. 83:1056–1123.

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Juvenile Curfew Laws

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