Supreme Judicial Court Strikes Down Criminal Provisions of Lowell Juvenile Curfew

September 25, 2009 12:00 am

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ACLU of Massachusetts applauds decision that locking up kids for being out late is unconstitutional

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BOSTON — The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today struck down the criminal provisions of a Lowell ordinance that made it illegal for kids under 17 to be out between 11pm and 5am. The law allowed police to arrest youth who were out late, even if they were not doing anything wrong. The kids could then be found delinquent, leading to confinement at the Department of Youth Services and a juvenile criminal record.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, along with a coalition of community and juvenile justice groups in the state, filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case of two children who were arrested under the law, arguing that the law was unconstitutional and only made the problem of juvenile crime worse. Although it may be dangerous for children to be out late at night without a parent or guardian, locking up those who break the curfew is a disproportionate response to the problem.

The court recognized for the first time that “the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights guarantees a fundamental right to move freely within the Commonwealth” and that this right applies to both minors and adults alike.

“Today’s decision is a reminder that kids have constitutional rights too, and will help stem the flow of young people into the juvenile justice system,” said Amy Reichbach, Equal Justice Works fellow at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We are very concerned about measures, both in schools and in communities at large, that rely on heavy-handed criminal prosecution. The Commonwealth should invest in diversion from the court system and community-based measures instead.”

While the curfew will remain in place, kids in Lowell who are found to be out late at night without a parent or guardian will no longer be arrested. Instead, police may issue a fine and send a notice to the child’s parent or guardian.

“Kids who are in danger need to be helped, not put in jail,” said Laura Rótolo, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. “The court’s decision ensures that no child will have a criminal record to follow him around forever just because he got home late.”

For the court opinion, go to the link below, click on “Opinions,” and look for Commonwealth v. Weston: www.massreports.com/SlipOps/Default.aspx

See the ACLU of Massachusetts brief here: www.aclum.org/legal/commonwealth_v_weston/brief.pdf

For more information, go to: www.aclum.org

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