Court Invalidates West New York Curfew Ordinance

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
September 13, 1999 12:00 am

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WEST NEW YORK, NJ — Ruling in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, a Superior Court judge today struck down a West New York curfew ordinance as unconstitutional.

Chancery Division Judge Martin L. Greenberg permanently blocked West New York from enforcing the curfew, saying that it was an impermissible restriction on the constitutional rights of minors.

“West New York’s curfew is an assault on the basic constitutional rights of thousands of young people in the township,” said David M. Kohane, a volunteer attorney with the ACLU of New Jersey, which filed its lawsuit on behalf of two families whose children had been arrested under the curfew.

“It makes no sense to punish these teenagers, and thousands of other good kids like them, for problems they haven’t caused,” he added.

The ACLU said that the teenagers involved in the suit were arrested for curfew violations on their way home from delivering cake to a grandparent, eating in a restaurant with an adult friend, working at McDonald’s, and walking home with friends from a movie.

In April of this year, Judge Greenberg issued a preliminary order preventing West New York from enforcing the ordinance against curfew violators after determining that the ACLU was likely to prevail on their claims.

The judge found no evidence that the ordinance was necessary, that it was effective at preventing crime or that it was narrowly drawn to protect the rights of minors.

“The police already have the ability to arrest juvenile criminals; the curfew adds nothing more than the discretion to arrest the innocent as well,” said ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director Lenora Lapidus. “The proper response to juvenile crime is to arrest the criminals, not to place thousands of law-abiding young people under house arrest.”

West New York’s curfew, enacted in 1993, prohibits anyone under age 18 from being in a public place between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. unless accompanied by their parent or guardian.

The ordinance provides exceptions for juveniles traveling to or from work, engaged in a medical emergency or traveling to or from events sponsored by community or religious organizations. Curfew violators and their parents are subject to fines of up to $1,000, and up to 90 days community service.

The ACLU said that studies have repeatedly shown that curfews are an ineffective crime-fighting tool and that many large cities have either scrapped or refused to adopt curfew laws.

A recent comprehensive study of curfew enforcement in California by the Justice Policy Institute found that curfew enforcement had no discernible effect on juvenile crime, and in many jurisdictions, juvenile crime actually increased. In addition, federal crime statistics show that the majority of juvenile crimes occur during non-curfew hours, peaking between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Courts around the country have reached differing conclusions regarding the constitutionality of juvenile curfews, but the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue.

Juvenile curfews have been found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Courts of Washington, Iowa, and Hawaii, and have recently been struck down by the federal court in San Diego, California. However courts have upheld curfews in Dallas, Texas, Washington, D.C. and Charlottesville, Virginia.

The ACLU lawsuit, Betancourt v. Township of West New York, docket number C-6-99, was filed in New Jersey Superior Court, Chancery Division, Hudson County, on January 19, 1999.

David M. Kohane, an attorney in the Hackensack law firm of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard is handling the case for the ACLU of New Jersey.

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