Alaska Court Strikes Down Curfew Law as Violation of Parents and Childrens' Constitutional Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Alaska
March 22, 2001 12:00 am

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ANCHORAGE–Moving to protect the rights of parents to rear their children free from unwarranted government intrusion and the rights of innocent teenagers to travel at night without being given criminal citations, a local court here struck down the city’s curfew ordinance.

The ruling was hailed as a victory by the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, which had filed a constitutional challenge to the law on behalf of parents who had given their children oral permission to be out past curfew hours and teens whose only “crime” was being out at night for legitimate reasons with their parents’ permission

“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,”” she added. “”Therefore, parents should be empowered to make these decisions since governments cannot.””

The curfew had been upheld last year in a limited administrative appeal of an individual curfew citation given to David Treacy, and that case is currently on appeal by Treacy to the Alaska Supreme Court. However, the ruling handed down late yesterday was based on the ACLU’s broader challenge to the law, filed in June 1999.

The Treacys were just one of three families in the AkCLU’s constitutional challenge to the Anchorage curfew, and the AkCLU lawsuit was a very different case from the appeal filed by Treacy individually,

The court upheld the law in Treacy’s individual appeal, but in the lawsuit filed by the AkCLU, he court reviewed the curfew’s application to several families in which parents asserted their rights to set their own curfews for their teens, without interference from the government. The judge in that case agreed with the AkCLU that the Anchorage curfew law violates the constitutional rights of families.

Courts across the country are divided on whether curfews are constitutional, and curfews have been struck down in states including New Jersey, Iowa, Washington and California. Curfews have been upheld in Texas and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Supreme Court has never decided a curfew case.

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 in Anchorage 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.

According to Rudinger, one student was spending the night at a friend’s house, with his mother’s permission, when he suddenly suffered an attack of GIRD disease, resulting in stomach pains. At 2:00 a.m., he called his mother to ask if he could come home., but she was unable to come get him since he had borrowed the family car to go to his friend’s house. She then gave her son permission to drive himself home, in what was approximately a two-mile trip.

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.

“”Curfews sound like tough crime-fighting tools, but they are clearly not a solution to the problem of juvenile crime,”” said Hugh Fleischer, Cooperating Attorney for the AkCLU. “”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 and they punish kids who aren’t doing anything wrong.””

According to the AkCLU’s complaint, the Anchorage curfew violated 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 case is Williford, et al. v. Municipality of Anchorage. The Municipality of Anchorage is expected to appeal the ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court.

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