Curfew Laws Ignore U.S. Constitution

Aaron Pressman

With rates of violence involving teenagers on the rise, more and more U.S. cities have been proposing and implementing curfews, prohibiting minors from being on the streets during nighttime hours. I don’t know if local politicians have simultaneously lost their sense of logic and their trust in the United States Constitution, but these laws are some of the most ridiculous ones in the books.

The most recent curfew proposition occurred Monday, when a city council member in Oakland, CA, one of the most crime-ridden cities in America, suggested that Oakland jump on the bandwagon and join hundreds of other U.S. cities by implementing its own teenage curfew. The proposed curfew would bar minors from being in any public place from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and from being on the streets during school hours. The law would mean that minors could be hit with fines or even jail time just for being on the streets or in businesses at a prohibited hour.

Current curfews in other cities are very similar, with each city holding slightly different laws regarding the prohibited hours and the maximum punishments. Each curfew does, however, have a few characteristics in common in all cities: They are ineffective, unconstitutional and they create unnecessary profiling.

Although banning teenagers from roaming the streets at night would reduce crime in theory, the laws overlook a lot of societal complexities. In general, teens intending to commit crime do not have any problem breaking the curfew as well. The parents of these children are not effectively regulating their children’s behavior and no curfew law is going to stop them. The people the curfew laws keep off the streets are innocent teenagers who would otherwise be engaging in perfectly legal activity. These teenagers and their parents have a respect for law and society, and therefore are going to be the ones who obey the curfew regulations. Taking the good children off the streets and leaving the mischievous ones does nothing to lower the crime rates.

Further, many children do not have a safe place to stay at night. This is particularly prevalent in lower-income cities, where many children deal with abusive or uninvolved parents. With these curfew laws, these children can face legal repercussions for trying to escape their unsafe homes.

The curfew laws also lead to a very poor use of police resources. The curfew laws are most necessary in cities with the highest crime rates, which are often also the cities which need productive use of police resources the most. Each minute an officer spends busting a 17-year-old for walking to the drugstore to get medicine for his sick grandparents is an extra minute for a mugger to get away.

Furthermore, these laws are unconstitutional and go against the basic principles of this nation. The First Amendment provides the right to peaceful assembly and the Fifth Amendment provides the right to due process of law, both of which are completely undermined by curfew laws. Curfews have historically been a dictatorial tactic used by oppressive regimes or a rare regulation in states in dire emergency — not something that is implemented each night in a country founded on freedom and liberty.

The law sets police up for further constitutional rights violations by allowing for profiling on account of age, race and many other factors. Police are not allowed to detain someone without reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed. However, by implemening curfew laws, police are allowed and encouraged to detain suspects merely on the basis that they think they are underage. This can be incredibly problematic, especially because most states do not require citizens to carry identification cards. Police can further use this law to pick and choose suspicious-looking teenagers during curfew hours. This gives free reign for police departments to detain minorities and those who they think look “sketchy.”

It should be the responsibility of parents to tell their children when to be home — not the responsibility of the government. Parents know their children personally and can determine their maturity level when deciding whether or not to institute a curfew.

Freedom and security are not mutually exclusive. In fact, society functions best when they coexist. Government, it’s time to stop overstepping your bounds because you think it will make society safer. This is the land of the free. Start acting like it.