Court Upholds Juvenile Curfew Law

Article excerpt

Nighttime Not the Right Time

In the case of Hutchins v. District of Columbia, No. 96-7239 (D.C. Cir. 1999), the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had to determine whether the district's juvenile curfew violated the constitutional rights of minors and their parents. Despite sharp differences of opinion among the judges, as described in the following paragraphs, a majority on the federal circuit court held that the curfew ordinance was constitutional. The facts of the case were as follows:

The District of Columbia Council, determining that juvenile crime and victimization in the district was a serious problem - and growing worse - unanimously adopted the juvenile Curfew Act of 1995, which bars juveniles 16 and under from being in a public place unaccompanied by a parent or without equivalent adult supervision from 11:00 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday to 6:00 a.m. on the following day and from midnight to 6:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, subject to certain enumerated defenses. See D.C. Code Ann.(beta)( beta) 6-2182, 6-2183 (1996).

The curfew provides that a minor (defined as "any person under the age of 17 years" but not 'a judicially emancipated minor or a married minor") cannot remain in a public place or on the premises of any establishment within the District of Columbia during curfew hours.

A parent or guardian commits an offense by knowingly permitting, or through insufficient control allowing, the minor to violate the curfew. Owners, operators, or employees of public establishments also violate the curfew by knowingly allowing the minor to remain on the premises, unless the minor has refused to leave and the owner or operator has so notified the police.

The curfew contains eight 'defenses." It is not violated if the minor is

(1) accompanied by the minor's parent or guardian or any other person 21 years or older authorized by a parent to be a caretaker for the minor; (2) on an errand at the direction of the minor's parent, guardian, or caretaker, without any detour or stop; (3) in a vehicle involved in interstate travel; (4) engaged in certain employment activity, or going to or from employment, without any detour or stop; (5) involved in an emergency; (6@ on the sidewalk that abuts the minor's or the next-door neighbor's residence, if the neighbor has not complained to the police; 17) in attendance at an official school, religious, or other recreational activity sponsored by the District of Columbia, a civic organization, or another similar entity that takes responsibility for the minor, or going to or from, without any detour or stop, such an activity supervised by adults; or (8) exercising First Amendment rights, including free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, and the right of assembly.

If, after questioning an apparent offender to determine his age and reason for being in a public place, a police officer reasonably believes that an offense has occurred under the curfew law and that no defense exists, the minor will be detained by the police and then released into the custody of the minor's parent, guardian, or an adult acting in loco parentis [i.e., in place of the parent]. If no one claims responsibility for the minor, the minor may be taken either to his residence or placed into the custody of the Family Services Administration until 6:00 a.m. the following morning.

Minors found in violation of the curfew may be ordered to perform up to 25 hours of community service for each violation, while parents violating the curfew may be fined up to $500 or required to perform community service, and may be required to attend parenting classes.

A group of minors and their parents claimed the curfew was unconstitutional. The federal district court agreed and issued an injunction prohibiting the

District of Columbia from enforcing the curfew. In so doing, the federal district court concluded that "it is a wellsettled legal principle that the right to free movement is a fundamental right generally," and although the "[s]tate has a great interest in regulating the activities of, and providing protection for, minors,' this "interest does not automatically dilute the constitutional rights of minors. …