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What Are Curfew Laws?

"Mandatory curfews" are laws that ban or limit your right to be out in public at certain times. In some cases, these laws require businesses to close their doors during certain hours. In others, they limit when juveniles can go to the mall or be out in public without adult supervision.

A mandatory curfew is only for public property and cannot be set on private property or your property. This means that if a curfew is set for your city you might need to go home, but are free to be in your yard, deck, patio, porch, or driveway. City ordinances like "quiet hours" may still apply.

Read on to learn more about the different types of curfew laws.

Direct Police Orders During Curfew

A direct order from a law enforcement officer or public safety officer will trump a curfew law. These actions must be followed, or you will be breaking the law. Orders like "go inside," "get out," or "get down," are safety instructions that you have to follow, even on your own property.

Who Decides Curfew Laws?

State and local governments have broad powers to set curfews and other restrictions. This means your state or city can decide when you need to get home. Local government has more power than the federal government during public health crises and other emergencies to maintain public health and safety.

What Kinds of Curfew Laws Are There?

There are three main types of curfew laws:

These are explained in more detail below.

Emergency Curfew Laws 101

Emergency curfews are usually temporary orders by local, state, or federal governments in response to specific crises, such as:

  • Natural disasters (hurricanes, forest fires, explosions, etc.)
  • Public health crises (diseases, pandemics, quarantines, etc.)
  • Ongoing civil disturbances (protests, riots, terrorist threats, etc.)

A few examples of emergency curfews are:

  • March 2020: Dozens of states and territories declared states of emergency, granting authority to impose emergency curfews in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 during the global pandemic.
  • August 2008: The city of New Orleans instituted an emergency "dusk to dawn" curfew as Hurricane Gustav approached the Gulf Coast.
  • September 2008: Houston set a midnight-to-6:00 a.m. curfew as the city sought to clean up debris and repair power outages due to Hurricane Ike.
  • April 1992: Authorities in Los Angeles imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and deployed the National Guard to help quell city-wide civil disturbances, after the acquittal of LAPD officers involved in the beating of Rodney King.

What Does an Emergency Curfew Include?

A city's laws may give the mayor the power to take specific curfew-related actions in response to a local emergency. These could include:

  • Banning pedestrians from standing, sitting, walking, or biking
  • Banning cars from going anywhere or being parked in specific areas
  • Banning businesses from being open past curfew
  • Allowing only designated essential services
  • Allowing only fire, police, and hospital services to continue "business as usual"
  • Allowing the transportation of patients, utility emergency repairs, or emergency calls by physicians

Business Curfew Laws 101

Emergency curfew laws allow state and local governments to put curfews on businesses. These laws help maintain health and safety during a time of crisis. For example, in an effort to slow the coronavirus spread in March 2020, businesses across the world were ordered to obey the curfew. Some were forced to close early, alter hours, shut down, or stop in-person service after states of emergency were declared.

Business Curfews Related to Crimes

States and local municipalities have also enacted business curfew laws in densely-populated or high-crime areas. The rules require businesses to close during late-night hours, i.e., from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Typically, business curfews do not apply to pharmacies but apply to restaurants, liquor stores, and other establishments where people may gather.

It is common for a city's business curfew law to remain "on the books" but be enforced only periodically. Usually, this happens as a law enforcement response to local crises or increased incidences of crime or violence.

Juvenile Curfew Laws 101

Juvenile curfew laws are typically enacted at the state and local levels. These curfews stop people of a certain age (usually under 18) from being in public or at a business during certain hours. Typically the curfew hours are 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. The goals behind these laws usually claim to be maintaining social order and preventing juvenile crime.

Controversy for Juvenile Curfew Laws

Not surprisingly, juvenile curfew laws have controversy and they can be legally challenged. A common argument is that juvenile curfew laws are age discrimination. This type of challenge has not been effective. Challenges based on unlawful arrest or racial profiling have been more effective.

Talk to an Attorney About Curfew Laws

When cities struggle with public safety because of civil rights issues, pandemics, or natural disasters, they often pass and enforce curfew laws. Calling an attorney for a free consultation is the best way to know if these laws apply to you. They can offer guidance on your situation and explain your defenses.

You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if you've been charged with a crime related to curfew laws.

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