Juvenile Curfew Laws: The Basics

Curfews vary depending on the jurisdiction. Some states may impose a statewide curfew via their policymakers. Still, mayors sometimes impose curfews in cities through the municipal code. 

Juvenile curfew laws are local ordinances that prohibit young people of a certain age (usually under 18) from being in a public place or business establishment during certain nighttime hours. The purposes behind these laws include:

  • Preventing criminal behavior involving juveniles (juvenile delinquency)
  • Protecting minors from predators
  • Maintaining general peace during most adults' sleeping hours
  • Preventing loitering
  • Promoting public safety

Some studies show statewide curfews do not affect total juvenile arrests, felonies, misdemeanors, violent or serious crimes, property crimes, or other criminal activity. Critics argue that these laws may infringe upon First Amendment rights and due process for young individuals. Depending on the state, law enforcement can charge offenders of juvenile curfew laws with a misdemeanor crime or a civil violation.

This article provides a general overview of juvenile curfew laws and their role in the juvenile justice system.

Examples of Juvenile Curfew Laws and Their Impact on Law Enforcement

For example, in Los Angeles, California, the city and county impose a curfew on people under 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. Any child under 18 must be with a parent or legal guardian 21 or older. The mall policy is not itself a source of law, but the mall can charge violators with trespassing and turn them over to the police.

San Diego, California, has imposed 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. These are "daytime loitering hours." Daytime loitering hours 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 ordinances by state, visit FindLaw's article, "Juvenile Curfew Laws in Big Cities."

Juvenile Curfew Laws and Exempted Activities in the Criminal Justice System

Most of these local 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:

  • 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
  • Emergencies

These exemptions aim to balance maintaining public safety and ensuring young individuals can exercise their First Amendment rights.

Punishments for Juvenile Curfew Violations and Law Enforcement's Role

Jurisdictions punish juvenile curfew violations differently, depending on whether the violation is a civil or criminal offense. Law enforcement officers play a crucial role in enforcing these curfews. Here are some examples of the consequences of violating curfew laws:

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

In some cities, parents or legal guardians who allow their children to violate curfew laws can be subject to fines and other forms of punishment. These crackdowns on curfew violations aim to deter youth crime and reduce crime rates.

Selective Enforcement, Leniency, and the Juvenile Justice System

A city curfew law will stay on the books. Still, police will enforce it intermittently, usually in response to a rise in local juvenile crime and victimization. In other cities, curfew enforcement increases during summer when students are out of school.

A city's curfew law might allow local law enforcement to be more flexible and helpful when dealing with minor curfew violations. Instead of immediately giving them a ticket or arresting them, they can do things like:

  • Giving a warning
  • Suggesting counseling
  • Taking the minor home

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

Navigating Juvenile Curfew Laws: Seeking Guidance From Local Governments and the Justice System

Juvenile curfew laws try to find a middle ground. They want to keep young people safe, lower youth crime, and ensure everyone is safe. It's essential for the community — and the young people these rules affect — to know how these laws work, what they mean for the justice system, and the job of police officers.

Juvenile curfew laws differ from place to place, and how they're enforced can vary, too. To get the nitty-gritty details about these laws, you can contact:

If you're unsure about these laws or caught up in a curfew violation situation, it's smart to chat with an attorney. They'll make sure you get fair treatment and protect your rights.

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