October 2, 2006
CURFEW LAWS FOR MINORS
By: Susan Price, Principal Legislative Analyst
You asked if the legislature has enacted any laws concerning juvenile curfews.
Section 7-148(c)(7)(f)(iii) of the Connecticut General Statutes permits towns and cities to “prohibit the loitering in the nighttime of minors on the streets, alleys, or public places within its limits.” This prohibition is generally enacted by local ordinance.
But courts have limited the terms of juvenile curfews to protect the constitutional rights of juveniles. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, whose decisions are generally binding on Connecticut, recently found that Vernon's juvenile curfew ordinance was unconstitutional. It established a test for determining the constitutionality of all curfew ordinances (Ramos v. Town of Vernon, 331 F.3d 315 (2003)).
VERNON'S JUVENILE CURFEW ORDINANCE
Vernon's ordinance imposed a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weeknights and 12:01 to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday on children and youth under age 18. The ordinance listed three purposes the council sought to serve:
1. promoting responsible parenting,
2. preventing harm to minors, and
3. protecting the community from juvenile crime.
Among other things, the ordinance exempted (1) all specific activities approved by a child's parent or guardian, (2) emergency errands, (3) activities with adult supervision, (4) job-related conduct, and (5) any exercise of the U.S. Constitution's free speech rights.
The court found the ordinance violated children's rights to assemble and engage in constitutional activities because it singled them out as a group without proving that this classification served important government objectives and that the discriminatory means employed were substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.
For the ordinance to pass constitutional muster, the court required the council to prove that the ordinance was the product of “reasoned analysis” and not simply a mechanical application of traditional, often inaccurate, assumptions. It must prove a logical relationship between (1) the factual premises that prompted the legislative enactment, (2) the remedy and those factual premises, and the breadth of the remedy chosen (Ramos, at 329).
The court determined that the council failed to prove that the policies it sought to further by the ordinance were substantially tied to the special traits, vulnerabilities, and needs of minors.
The evidence the court identified as not supporting the policies the council asserted to justify the ordinance included that:
1. the event triggering the council to act was the murder of a teenager that had occurred during the day, before the curfew would have been in effect;
2. the ordinance's numerous exemptions undercut its argument that minors as a group should be subject to the ordinance;
3. the council did not prove that the town's nighttime problems were caused by youth under age 18, rather than by older individuals; and
4. minors get into trouble primarily between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m., before the curfew hours covered by the ordinance.
In addition, none of the witnesses the council called to testify could corroborate that he had personal knowledge that the wrongdoers were minors.
The court did, however, acknowledge that the constitutionality of curfew ordinances must be considered on a case-by-case basis and the court must examine the town's reasons for enacting the ordinance. It must weigh the importance of protecting minors' constitutional rights against the town's method of protecting its citizens' interest in living in a safe community (Ramos, at 332).