Teenage Curfew Laws: Beneficial or Detrimental?

By Laura – Jayne
Sally walked out of the coffee shop downtown and wandered to her
car. It was about 12:15 a.m. on one Tuesday over the summer, and her
parents had set her curfew for 12:30 a.m. Sally thought she would be home
right on time; unfortunately, the Roanoke City Council though otherwise.

Since Sally is 16, she is breaking the teenage curfew in Roanoke City.

Roanoke’s curfew, which took effect July 31, 1992, requires that teens 16
and under be off the streets by 11 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday and by
12 p.m. on Friday and Saturday (Turner, “Council” B3). Because Sally’s
parents did not set her curfew in compliance with the one Roanoke City had
set for their child, Sally is now a criminal. Is that really what Roanoke
wants to happen. By setting a teenage curfew, Roanoke City is undermining
parental authority and turning innocent teens into criminals.

Roanoke, however, is not the only locality that is issuing curfew
laws. A survey from the Justice Department found that nearly three-quarters
of the 200 largest cities in the united States have implemented curfew laws
to lower juvenile crime rates (Gostomski 2). Though backers of curfew laws
applaud their effectiveness in this capacity, statistics show no support
for their claim that curfews reduce youth crime. As curfews are put into
effect across the country, the American Civil Liberties Union and the
courts are beginning to question their constitutionality. Though curfew
laws are disguised as a mechanism to protect teens and reduce youth crime,
they are unconstitutional, ill-advised, and ineffective.

Curfew laws violate the basic constitutional guarantees in the Bill
of Rights. Though teenagers are minors, they are still citizens and not
exempt from basic constitutional rights. Courts throughout the United
States have thrown out local curfew laws, citing various violations of
juveniles’ constitutional protections. The 9th U.S. District Court of
Appeals threw out a San Diego curfew because it infringed upon youth’s
first amendment right to speech (Gostomski 4). In Dallas, U.S. District
Court Judge Jerry Buchmeyer said the city curfew defied minors’ right to
freedom of association (Turner, “Constitutionality” B3). The Supreme Court
in Washington state has twice ruled that curfews cannot be ordered upon any
citizen unless there is a state of emergency (Brown and Santana). Since
curfews began to reappear in the 1980s and 1990s, the American Civil
Liberties Union has been fighting their constitutionality because “they
punish law-abiding teens more than true criminal” (“Survey”). Along with
these infractions, challengers of curfew laws have cited their violation of
freedoms of religion and assembly, rights to travel, and rights against
unreasonable search and seizure (Crowell 5). Also, opponents say curfew
laws violate the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and the equal
protection clause of the 14th Amendment (Crowell 5). Experts say that “it
is trick, if not impossible, to craft a curfew law that protects the
constitutional rights of minors” (“Problems”). If curfew laws do not
protect the constitutional rights of minors, they violate the fundamental
principles of the United States, and lawmakers should repeal them.

Curfew laws, when they are implemented, lead to antagonism between
law abiding teenagers and the police force, and often turn innocent
teenagers into criminals. Also, these laws create a stereotype that all
teens are delinquents. Curfew laws allow police to arrest minors for
offenses that are not crimes if adults commit them. When teens break the
curfew law, they change from law-abiding citizens into criminals. This
precedent creates tension between all teens, lawful and unlawful alike, and
adults, especially law enforcement officers (Macallair and Males). To
teenagers, police represent the unjust curfew laws that oppress them. To
police officers, all teens that stay out past curfew hour are criminals. A
U.S. District Court threw out a curfew law in the District of Columbia on
the basis that it did not differentiate between innocent teens and those
who were a threat to society (Racine 233). Lumping all teenagers together
stereotypes them in society. a study by Gallup Polls in 1994 shows that
“the average adult believes juveniles commit 43% of violent crime, when the
actual figure is just 13%” (Allen 2). Also, most teens are not violent
offenders. One survey showed that only 0.5% of youths engage in violent
acts (Allen 3). Curfew laws punish the 99.5% of teenagers that are law
abiding. by grouping all teens together, curfew laws contribute to the
belief that youths are the downfall of society and lead to tension between
those teens who are not a detriment to the