Juvenile curfew laws are local or city ordinances which restrict people under a certain age from being in public during specific hours. Juvenile curfew hours are designed to reduce crime caused by juveniles and to protect minors from becoming victims of nighttime crime.
As an example, Washington D.C.’s juvenile curfew law provides that persons under 17 may not be “in or on a street, park or other outdoor public place, in a vehicle, or on the premises of any establishment.” Curfew hours in D.C. are 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Sunday to Thursday, and 12:01 a.m. to 6:01 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (and every day during the months of July and August).
Often there are different regulations for different age groups. In Philadelphia, those who are 16 and older may stay out until midnight, while children who are 14 or 15 must be home by 10:00 and those 13 and under must be in by 9:30 pm.
Many cities have special curfew laws for children who do not attend school, such as those who have been suspended or expelled. Such individuals may not be in public during school hours.
Shopping malls are commonly subject to special curfew laws, and youth have to leave the shops at a given time even though the stores are still open.
Curfew regulations and ordinances prohibit underage people from staying, remaining, or loitering in an area. This is different than simply being somewhere. If a group of children pass through a public space in order to get to a private one, they have not violated curfew law. If one or more of them decide to stay around in the public place for a while, though, they are breaking curfew.
Can Parents Get Charged if Their Child Violates Curfew?
Juveniles are not the only ones who can get into trouble under curfew laws. Many cities make it unlawful for a parent to allow a child to be out past curfew. Philadelphia fines the parent $300 if the parent allowed the child to stay out too late, in addition to the fine for the underlying violation by the youth for violating the juvenile curfew law. If the parents repeatedly allow the child to violate curfew, they may even be arrested and ordered to serve some jail time, while the child goes to juvenile hall.
Are There Exceptions to the Curfew Laws?
Nearly all juvenile curfew laws provide for exceptions when juveniles can be out after curfew. Examples include:
- Minors who are with a parent or guardian
- Youth who are traveling to or from work
- Juveniles who are traveling to or from a religious event
- Youth who are traveling to or from a school event
- Minors who are running an errand under the supervision of an adult
Curfew ordinances may also allow for juveniles to remain on certain property, such as the sidewalk connected to the juvenile’s home, or a sidewalk connected to the neighbor’s yard, as long as the neighbor has not complained to the police.
What Are the Punishments for Breaking Curfew?
If this is the child’s first violation of curfew law, they may simply be given a warning, oral or written. If the child has violated curfew before, they will probably be detained. Police will contact the parents and will take the child home to have a discussion with the parents. If there is no parent at home, the police will take the youth to the local police station to see if a parent can be located. If no parent can be found, the minor is taken to a shelter.
Cities have extensive regulations covering how juveniles may be treated during their initial detention, their transportation, and their placement in a shelter (e.g., if the child has broken curfew but has not violated any other law, they may not be handcuffed).
Punishments for breaking curfew laws vary by jurisdiction. Common penalties include:
- Fines ranging from $250 to $300. The fines increase with subsequent violations
- Loss or limitation of driving privileges
- Requirement to enroll in an after-school program
- Requirement to perform community service work
- Detention in jail or juvenile hall
More than one penalty may be imposed – a fine plus community service, for example.
Are Curfew Laws Actually Enforced?
Yes, they are. Many cities enforce them more rigidly during summer months when students are out of school. If there is a disturbance in the community, such as a riot, looting, or vandalism, juvenile curfew laws will often be strictly enforced.
In the end, enforcement of curfew law is up to the individual police officer. Some are lenient and just give a warning, and some are tougher and issue citations more often. Juvenile curfew laws have been challenged for being unconstitutional.
Do Juvenile Curfew Laws Work?
It’s a summer ritual in most American cities – setting a juvenile curfew to keep supposedly dangerous teenagers off the streets. But do they work? Research indicates that they may not. The United States Justice Department, Office of Justice Programs (DOJ), conducted an in-depth study of crime in New Orleans before and after juvenile curfew laws were put in place, and found that the laws were ineffective.
One reason for juvenile curfews is to reduce the number of youth who become victims of crime, and victimization is believed to be more common at night. The DOJ study indicates that juvenile curfews do not reduce the number of these incidents – they just move them to the daytime. The Campbell Collaboration, a non-profit research institute, wrote that “evidence suggests that juvenile curfews are ineffective at reducing crime and victimization. The average effect on juvenile crime during curfew hours was slightly positive – that is, a slight increase in crime – and close to zero for crime during all hours. Similarly, juvenile victimization also appeared unaffected by the imposition of a curfew ordinance.”
Juvenile curfews also do not work because they do not apply to those who are most likely to commit crimes, namely older teenagers and young adults. They also do not apply during the hours when juvenile crime is most likely to occur. Furthermore, they are based on the incorrect assumption that police crackdowns reduce crime.
Another important factor is that curfew laws have been found to damage already strained relationships between police and minority youth, and in some instances have a “blowback” effect, increasing overall crime. Statistics indicate that in fact minorities are charged with violations of curfew laws in numbers that do not correspond with their percentage of the population – that is, they are apparently targeted by police.
Another factor is that most crime occurs on empty streets where there are few witnesses. Allowing juveniles to walk the streets increases the number of people who are around. Well-populated streets are safe streets.
Should You Talk to a Lawyer?
Curfew violations by juveniles may seem unimportant, but especially if a youth collects a number of violations, there can be serious consequences, as described above. All parents, guardians and juveniles should understand that violations of curfew are serious matters. In particular, parents who are facing charges of curfew violation should consider speaking with a lawyer.
Any time you or your child is faced with legal consequences for curfew violation, you have the right to contact an attorney. Find a local juvenile law attorney who is familiar with state and local curfew rules – they are the best ones to give you advice on what you should do next.