Friday, June 12, 2009

Case Law Development: Juvenile Curfew Held Unconstitutional

The New York Court of Appeals found that the City of Rochester's curfew conflicted with more general state law and with the constitution. 

The court found that provisions of the curfew that applied to minors under the age of 17 violated the Family Court Act by impermissibly allowing police to take children into custody for non-criminal violations.

As for minors under the age of 18, the court conducted a constituitonal analysis, concluding that an strict level of scrutiny was required because the ordinance interfered with freedom of movement, though the court acknowledged that many other courts apply only intermediate scrutiny to laws affecting fundamental rights of juveniles.  The court noted that the ordinance would not pass even intermediate scrutiny however, because the city had not established that the ordinance advanced its stated objectives.  The court pointed out that most juvenile crime occurs during the day and that most nighttime crime is by adults.  The sweeping application of the curfew and the limited exceptions provided made for unconstitution interference with juvenile rights: "minors are affected by crime during curfew hours but from the obvious disconnect between the crime statistics and the nighttime curfew, it seems that no effort . . . [was] made by the [City] to ensure that the population targeted by the ordinance represented that part of the population causing trouble or that was being victimized."

In addition to violating the rights of minors, the Court found the law violated the substantive due process rights of parents in that it provided an exception for parental consent only if the child was physically accompanied by a parent or other responsible adult authorized by the parent to accompany the child. The court concluded that "an exception allowing for parental consent to the activities of minors during curfew hours is of paramount importance to the due process rights of parents." The Court stated that if "a parental consent exception were included in this curfew, it would be a closer case — courts have upheld curfews having, among other things, such an exception as only minimally intrusive upon the parent's due process rights."

Associate Justice Eugene F. Pigott, formerly of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, wrote a dissenting opinion in which Judge Robert Smith concurred: “The decision to enact a curfew, while based in part on objective data, was also based in substantial part on the subjective judgment of experienced civic leaders, who believed the ordinance to be the best way of dealing with a very troubling problem. Their judgment is, in my opinion, entitled to considerable deference.... Equipped with a parental consent exception, I think it might have been a model city curfew,” Justice Pigott wrote. “It is regrettable that a curfew was determined to be necessary in Rochester; but it is equally regrettable if this court prevents Rochester from implementing a reasonable plan to protect its youth.”

Jiovon Anonymous v. City of Rochester, June 9, 2009

Read the opinion online (last visited June 12, 2009 bgf)

The ACLU amicus brief, which focused on the parental rights aspect of the curfew is available here.

Idaho too has recently held a similar ordinance unconstitutional: State of Idaho v. Doe, (ID Ct. App., March 31, 2009), an Idaho appellate court held that Wendell, Idaho's juvenile curfew ordinance is unconstitutionally overbroad. "A minor's freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association are all curtailed by the curfew ordinance."

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