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Juvenile Curfew Laws: The Basics

Juvenile curfew laws are local curfew ordinances that prohibit young people of a certain age (usually under 18 years of age) from being in a public place or business establishment during certain nighttime hours. The legislative purposes behind juvenile curfew laws include the prevention of criminal behavior involving juveniles (juvenile crime), the protection of minors from predators, and the maintenance of general peace and quiet during the hours when most adults are sleeping. These laws help prevent loitering and promote public safety.

However, some studies indicate that statewide curfews had no effect on total juvenile arrests, felonies, misdemeanors, violent or serious crimes, property crimes, or other criminal activity. Offenders of juvenile curfew laws can be charged with a misdemeanor crime or a civil violation, depending on the state.

This article provides a general overview of juvenile curfew laws in the United States.

Examples of Juvenile Curfew Laws

Curfews vary depending on the jurisdiction. Some states may impose a statewide curfew via their policymakers, but sometimes, curfews are imposed in cities by mayors through the municipal code. For example, in Los Angeles, California, the city imposes a curfew on people under the age of 18 from being outside or in public places between 10 p.m. and sunrise, with several exceptions.

Another example is in Syracuse, New York, where malls have instituted a Parental Escort Policy on Fridays and Saturdays between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and closing, and any child under the age of 18 must be with a parent or legal guardian 21 or older. The mall policy is not itself a source of law, but violators can be charged with trespassing and turned over to the police.

The city of San Diego in California has imposed both a daytime loitering law, which keeps juveniles out of public places on school days between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. without a parent or legal guardian. This is referred to as “daytime loitering hours," and was put into place to help prevent and discourage truancy. Minors in San Diego are also subject to a traditional nighttime curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. every night.

For more information on juvenile curfew laws by state, visit FindLaw's article, Juvenile Curfew Laws in Big Cities.

Juvenile Curfew Laws and Exempted Activities

Almost all of these types of juvenile curfew laws identify exempted activities or exceptions under which young people may lawfully be out after curfew hours. These exceptions will vary by jurisdiction, but typically include the following:

  • Minors accompanied by a parent or guardian;
  • Minors traveling to or from work;
  • Minors attending official school or religious events;
  • Minors running errands under an adult's instruction; and
  • Emergencies.

Punishments for Juvenile Curfew Violations

Violations of juvenile curfews are punished differently among various jurisdictions, depending on whether the violation is viewed as a civil or criminal offense, but violations can often include one or more of the following penalties:

  • Fines (usually increasing for subsequent violations);
  • Imposition of community service or required enrollment in after-school programs;
  • Restriction of driver's license privileges; or
  • Possible detention in jail or juvenile hall.

In some cities, parents or legal guardians who knowingly allow their children to violate curfew laws can also be subject to fines and other forms of punishment.

Juvenile Curfew Laws, Selective Enforcement, and Leniency

Often, a city curfew law will remain on the books but will only be enforced periodically, typically as a police response to an increased incidence of local crime and violence. In other cities, curfew enforcement is ramped up during the summer months when students are out of school.

A city's curfew law can also include a provision giving local law enforcement the ability to choose more lenient and socially constructive curfew enforcement policies (compared to automatic citation or arrest of offending minors). These alternatives might include issuing a warning, recommending a counseling program, or simply taking the minor home.

Discretion and leniency when dealing with violations of juvenile curfew laws can help kids avoid criminal consequences. However, selective enforcement of vague curfew laws has also been the basis for legal challenges to certain juvenile curfew laws in the court system.

Juvenile Curfew Laws: Ask Local Authorities

Since juvenile curfew laws vary by locality, and enforcement can depend on a number of factors, More specific information about juvenile curfew laws can be obtained from the local police department, the nearest school district, or a criminal defense attorney.

Get Legal Help with Your Questions About Juvenile Curfew Laws

As you can see, there are usually several exemptions to juvenile curfew laws as well as issues relating to selective enforcement and discretionary punishments. If you or a minor you know has been charged with a violation of a juvenile curfew law, contacting a local criminal defense attorney will help you understand the charges. An attorney can also help resolve your case informally through negotiations or by presenting the strongest defense at trial. Get in touch with one today.

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