ACLU Files Legal Challenge to Curfew Law in Alaska

June 18, 1999 12:00 am

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Friday, June 18, 1999

ANCHORAGE — Defending the rights of parents to raise their children free from government intrusion and the rights of teenagers not to be treated like criminals, the Alaska Civil Liberties Union today filed suit in Anchorage Superior Court challenging the city’s municipal curfew ordinance.

According to the ACLU’s complaint, the Anchorage curfew violates a number of state and federal constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, the right to equal protection of the laws, the right to due process, and the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union is representing parents who had given their children oral permission to be out past curfew hours and young men and women whose only “crime” was being out at night for legitimate reasons with their parents’ consent.

“There are countless instances in which fairness and justice dictate that teens should be allowed to travel at night,” said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union. “No city council could possibly foresee every instance in which it would be good public policy to allow an exception to the curfew law. Therefore, parents should be empowered to make these decisions, since governments cannot.”

One of the young men represented by the ACLU was spending the night at a friend’s house with his mother’s permission when he suddenly suffered an attack of an intestinal disease. At 2:00 a.m., he called his mother to ask if he could come home. Since he had borrowed the family car, his mother was unable pick him up and so gave him permission to drive himself home — a trip of approximately two miles.

On his way home, the young man was stopped by the Anchorage police and given a curfew citation. Even after his mother told the police what happened, the young man was still cited for violating the curfew, and he had to pay a heavy fine.

Under the Anchorage municipal curfew ordinance, which took effect January 1, 1996, a minor (under age 18) commits a criminal offense if he or she is in any public place during curfew hours. Further, the ordinance holds parents criminally liable if their minor children violate the curfew.

Curfew hours are from 1:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m. every day during the summer (June through August). From September through May, curfew hours are from 11:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m. on weekdays and 1:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

“Curfews sound like tough crime-fighting tools, but they are clearly not a solution to the problem of juvenile crime,” said Mark Rindner, co-operating attorney for the ACLU. “These laws only offer quick fixes and create a false sense of security. Police already have the right — and the duty — to arrest anyone committing a real crime. Curfews don’t punish kids who commit real crimes — they punish kids who don’t.”

The case is Williford et al. v. Municipality of Anchorage. ACLU cooperating attorney Mark Rindner of Lane Powell Spears Lubersky in Anchorage is representing the plaintiffs on behalf of the the Alaska Civil Liberties Union.

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