A Working Juvenile Curfew Ordinance

Article excerpt

In 1994, the Metropolitan Dade County Commission enacted into law an Ordinance entitled The Dade County Juvenile Curfew Ordinance.

The purpose of this ordinance is straightforward: the imposition of restrictions for juveniles under the age of 17 in terms of the nighttime hours in which they may wander about freely absent parental accompaniment.

The hours of operation of the Curfew are: Sunday through Thursday, 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.; Friday and Saturday nights, midnight to 6:00 a.m.

Shortly after passage of the Ordinance, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an injunction with the Circuit Court, petitioning removal of the Ordinance based upon Constitutional grounds. It argued that the Ordinance would illegally and unconstitutionally deprive a certain group (those aged under 17) of their rights.

A secondary issue was announced with even greater concern. The ACLU and other community members opined that the Ordinance would be utilized in a manner unfair to inner city youth, and therefore young blacks and Hispanics would be targeted disproportionately.

The Circuit Court found for the petitioners and imposed the injunction. The Dade County Attorney filed for an appeal with the Third District Court of Appeals (DCA). The Third DCA reversed the lower court decision and in effect reinstated the Ordinance.

A technicality arose insofar as the original passage of the Ordinance included a Sunset Clause. Consequently, the Ordinance had expired. Therefore, it was brought before the full Commission and was reinstated by a majority of the commissioners.

Generally the court stated that the Ordinance did not violate any of the appelle's rights under the Florida Constitution. The Court further referenced Griffin vs. State and reaffirmed that the well being of children is a subject within the State's Constitutional powers to regulate. Accordingly, under both the Florida and United States Constitutions, children, due to their special nature and vulnerabilities, do not enjoy the same quantum or quality of rights as adults.

The Police Department treated the issue neutrally and discussed only the operational aspects of the issue. The department would enforce the Ordinance and would not change its priorities.

In essence the department would enforce the Ordinance in addition to their normal duties. The startup date was determined to be January 1, 1996 at Midnight.

The Ordinance

In order to understand the operational aspect of the ordinance, a brief description of the Metro-Dade Police Department (MDPD) is required.

It is a large decentralized organization with 2,700 sworn and 1,300 civilian employees. While there are 11 operational MDPD patrol districts throughout Dade County, the ordinance can be enforced by municipal police departments within their respective cities.

Although a number of variations on the theme can occur, a typical description of an officer enforcing the ordinance is illustrated below. Although fictitious, the actions described are accurate portrayals of the ordinance being enforced.

At 1:10 a.m., Wednesday morning, a complaint is received from an anonymous source that three or four juveniles are being noisy in a park. An officer discovers and detains the juveniles. He determines that two are IS years of age and that the other is 17 years old.

The 17-year-old is dismissed and the two 15-year-olds are patted down and transported to the nearest police station. A Juvenile Curfew Violation notice is completed for each and the officer attempts to contact the parents so they can pick up the juveniles. If a parent or guardian cannot be contacted, the officer is directed per the Ordinance to transport the juvenile to his residence and release him.

If the parents are located, they normally respond to the station and the juvenile is released to their custody. The juvenile is not under arrest, and no juvenile record exists. …