Oregon Students Challenge Unconstitutional Curfew in Lake Oswego

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
April 18, 2007 12:00 am

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PORTLAND, OR -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon today filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of several Lake Oswego High School students, saying that the city’s curfew is unconstitutional.

The ACLU of Oregon says that the Lake Oswego curfew violates constitutional rights of due process, freedom of expression and equal protection under the law of both students and parents by usurping parents’ rights to direct and control their children and by giving the police unlimited discretion to arrest young people engaged in wholly legitimate and constitutionally protected activities or speech.

“At any time of the day or night, police may stop young people based on reasonable suspicion that they are violating a law or posing a danger to themselves or others,” said David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon. “Curfew, on the other hand, criminalizes all youth, regardless of whether they are breaking any laws or posing any threat.”

The city’s curfew forbids children younger than 14 to be on city streets between 9:15 p.m. and 6 a.m. For teens ages 14 to 18 the law criminalizes anyone out after 10:15 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and after midnight on Friday and Saturday and during summer break.

“Being treated like a criminal when we have done nothing wrong is extremely unfair,” said Taylor Goldsmith, a junior at Lake Oswego High. “Law-abiding teenagers should be trusted, not targeted.”

The lawsuit stems from a class project -- which has grown well beyond the classroom -- initiated this school year by four Lake Oswego High School students. Goldsmith, Kyle Hayes, Hanna Piazza and Paul Trompke are members of the Political Action Seminar class, which asks students to take action on political issues at the local, state or national level. The students first took their challenge to the Lake Oswego City Council, making a presentation in December that outlined the unconstitutionality of the ordinance, which is modeled after a similar state curfew.

Although the council was receptive, the city has not taken action to abolish the curfew.

“The City Council seems more interested in playing word games with the existing ordinance rather than addressing the fundamental question of fairness and constitutionality of curfew,” Goldsmith said.

“We get the feeling the council thinks we will just go away. We hope this lawsuit finally convinces them that we are serious,” said Trompke.

In addition to targeting youth, the Lake Oswego ordinance includes a section that allows the city to cite parents for “inefficient control” if their child violates curfew even if the parent had given permission for the student to be out at that hour.

Leana Trompke, Paul Trompke’s mother, sees this as an infringement on her parental rights to set proper limits. She says those limits may be later or earlier than a city curfew based on the age and level of responsibility of her son.

“Curfews are like vagrancy or loitering laws, just a way for the police to have unfettered discretion to stop or arrest anyone, for any reason the officer sees fit,” said David L. Silverman, an ACLU of Oregon cooperating attorney. “In a free society, no one should have to explain himself or herself to the police just for walking down a public street.”

The ACLU of Oregon said police have every tool they need, without curfew, to protect and enforce laws involving youth.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the curfew is unconstitutional; a preliminary and eventually permanent injunction of the law; and reasonable attorney fees. City Manager Douglas J. Schmitz, Mayor Judie Hammerstad and the City of Lake Oswego are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

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