NJ Appeals Court Affirms Decision Striking Down Local Curfew Ordinance

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
March 23, 2001 12:00 am

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TRENTON, NJ — Ruling in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, a state appeals court today upheld a ruling that had struck down a West New York curfew ordinance as unconstitutional.

“This ruling gives families in the township the freedom and respect they deserve,” said David 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.

Kohane noted that the teenagers involved in the ACLU lawsuit have been arrested for curfew violations while returning home from activities such as delivering cake to a grandparent, eating in a restaurant with an adult friend, walking home from work at McDonald’s, and walking home with friends from a movie.

“It makes no sense to criminalize the innocent activities of these teenagers, and numerous other good kids like them, for problems they haven’t caused,” he said.

The Town of West New York had appealed a 1999 lower court ruling that permanently blocked officials from enforcing the curfew, saying that it was an impermissible restriction on the constitutional rights of minors.

In its ruling, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court agreed, recognizing that there is a “”strong constitutional presumption in favor of parental authority over government authority.””

The Appellate Division went on to hold that the West New York curfew ordinance was unconstitutional because it was “”not broad enough to recognize the right of parents to permit their children to participate in many legitimate activities”” and because the terms of the ordinance were unconstitutionally vague.

West New York’s curfew ordinance, enacted in 1993, prohibited minors 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 proper response to juvenile crime is to arrest the criminals,” Kohane said “not to place all law-abiding young people under house arrest. The police already have the ability to arrest juveniles when they break the law; the curfew would have added nothing except giving police the right to arrest the innocent as well.”

Numerous studies have repeatedly shown that curfews are an ineffective crime-fighting tool. 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.

The ACLU lawsuit — Betancourt v. Township of West New York, docket number A-711-99T2, was originally filed on January 19, 1999. The families in the case were represented by Kohane of the Hackensack law firm of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard.

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