The Issues And Constitutionality Of Youth Curfews Criminology Essay

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Curfews for young people are created to prevent juvenile crimes, and over the past few decades, they have become more widely used throughout America. Despite this growing popularity across the country, curfew ordinances have recently become a more controversial topic, mainly being attacked on a strong constitutional basis. Being seventeen, and therefore personally affected by curfews, I'll argue against these unfair laws as we look at the subject from perspectives of officials from both sides on whether curfew is effective in some cases or not; analyze whether or not curfews violate a minor's Constitutional rights - specifically those given in the 1st and 14th Amendments; and we will also examine why the New York State Supreme Court has repeatedly knocked down Rochester's curfew law.

Curfews throughout history were mainly used in wartime and during emergencies, and are usually only temporary. Today's teen curfews, however, are ongoing, whether or not the town even has a significant amount of juvenile crime or relatively little crime committed by young people - and these discriminatory, assumptive laws are becoming more and more common, raising questions of whether they work, and if they are acceptable ways to solve the perceived problem of "youth violence" that is somehow more profound than the many adult crimes committed on a daily basis.

Many supporters of youth curfew, such as Tom Dywer, a Sacramento police department sergeant, believe that curfew "is an effective crime prevention tool." Many city officials claim that since night curfews have been in place, crime rates among youth during the covered hours have dropped, and school-day curfews are said to have reduced absences among students. These daytime curfews may be somewhat effective; in a small Pennsylvania town, curfew during school hours decreased truancies by 25%. But in San Francisco, after curfew was implemented in 2006, there was only a 2% decrease in crime by those under the age of 14 - the ages restricted indoors by the rule. (Espejo, p. 13, p. 65)

However, opponents argue that even though city curfews are widely accepted by adults, it does not necessarily mean that they serve the purpose they were created for. Although the crime rates may have dropped during those hours that minors must stay inside, crimes in cities like Long Beach are simply transferred to the non-curfew times of day, and, in fact, during those hours there is a peak in crime. This peak isn't necessarily common among all cities, but it is worth mentioning, seeing as curfew is meant to reduce crime rather than displace it.

The curfew in Rochester, NY (which mandates all kids be indoors by 11:00 PM,) began in 2006 as a response to the murders of three male minors in a four-year period - but these crimes were committed outside of the hours that the ordinance covered, so it would have had absolutely no effect in preventing these deaths, even if it had already been in place! In the case of Jiovon Anonymous v. City of Rochester in 2006, the court applied the strict scrutiny legal test; it decided that the juvenile curfew was "not the least restrictive means to meet a compelling government interest."

The New York State Court of Appeals declared the ordinance unconstitutional, because although the ordinance allowed for six exceptions for minors to be out legally during the curfew hours, it nonetheless violated a teen's right to expression and movement. Theodore T. Jones, an Associate Justice, noted that there was a clear conflict with the juvenile offense statistics and the nocturnal curfew - "More than three-quarters of all crimes involving minors," he writes, "-- either as perpetrators or victims -- take place during non-curfew hours." He also stated that adults are responsible for nearly all aggressive crimes in the city during those night hours.

It was also concluded in the decision by the court that the Rochester ordinance is a hindrance to the due process rights that parents possess to watch over their kids; if there had been a parental consent exception to the rule, this case would have been closer, and the Chief Judge and two Associate Justices agreed on this statement. Victoria Graffeo, another Associate Justice, says that the curfew is completely unconstitutional, adding that it violated the Family Court Act because it permits police to take kids into custody for violations that are not criminal. (You cannot place kids under arrest for something that would not be a crime if committed by an adult.)

In over 200 cities and towns that have these laws in place, officials in 96% of them claim that the ordinances are "very" or "somewhat effective." (Espejo, p. 10) But a surprising lack of research has been done on its effectiveness; what little research has is mixed, but in general, curfew is either not effective, or there was no proven need of one in the first place. For example, in the town of Knightdale, their city law that created their curfew starts; "Whereas, the town council has determined that there has been an increase in juvenile violence, juvenile gang activity and crime by persons under the age of 18 . . ." but when confronted, the Police Chief Ricky Pope said that he had no data to back that up with, saying, "[The curfew] really wasn't because juvenile crime was up."

Similarly, in Kinston, North Carolina, whose curfew was set up in 2006, Van Broxton (Councilman) says "I do not know that we had a lot of criminal data" - yet he was one of the people to vote for the rule! And most residents of these cities feel the same; they say that they are bothered or disturbed by young people doing some activity at certain hours. (Espejo, p. 15)

However, it is worth mentioning that the juveniles have often not even committed an actual crime; so where is the compelling government interest at when you apply intermediate scrutiny, as the court did in the Rochester curfew case? Is it rational that an entire group of people must be kept in their homes at night just because of the unproven perceptions of others, when that group of people has the same rights as those accusing them? When you take into account that the 1st Amendment says that all citizens can peacefully assemble, and the 14th Amendment gives all people equal protection under the law, it seems that the Constitution gives youth the same rights to peaceably assemble as adults… yet enough complaints from townsfolk appear to be all it takes for a curfew to be implemented that corrals adolescents indoors. (Boyle, p. 36-38)

Simple reasoning is enough for people involved in the issue to question the effectiveness of it - to paraphrase Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Executive Director of NYRA; would young people who are already willing to commit crimes really abide by a simple rule to stay inside? Would laws against other crimes not be enough, if this were the case? Why would under-18s who would be willing to key cars and steal things and break windows, abide by such a rule? This means that the youth who are mainly affected - the ones who stay indoors as they are told - are the ones who most likely would not be involved in criminal activity, anyway.

It seems that the experts on this issue, not to mention many lower courts, are split; many are convinced that curfew is unconstitutional; others feel that it makes their towns much safer places to live and is alright as long as it is drafted to include exceptions for being out (so as to not infringe freedom of religion and movement by preventing them from going to church or interstate traveling) - but what it boils down to is there is little to no evidence that curfew even stops crime; it's how people feel that matters - people feel safer when they are not around teens. (Espejo, p. 10, p. 19)

In neighborhoods where curfew is not enforced, police say that they just have more important things to do than chase kids, and are concerned about the relationship they have with the youth there, not wanting to sour young people's view of cops early in life. Police in Elmhurst have been advised to "use common sense and ask questions" to make sure that they avoid citing kids who are within their constitutional rights, such as going to a religious function (freedom of religion.)

In conclusion, seeing as the legitimacy of juvenile curfews is still a fairly new topic, there has not been an abundance of studies done long-term on the results of them; as such, what research that there is currently seems to result in more factual evidence against curfew, and less for supporting. I believe that curfews are wrong and unconstitutional, this being supported by the fact that the lower courts that have discredited curfews often do so because the laws were found to be constitutionally invalid. (Espejo, p. 29)