Curfew laws have been around in the United States since before the Civil War. They were intended to control populations, punish groups and protect citizens in times of war. There was a sharp rise in communities enforcing curfew laws among juveniles in the 1990s, mostly to quell concerns about crime and victimization. In Baltimore, after the riots in 2014, the city enacted strict curfews on juveniles and minors that are still in place and being enforced today.
What is the Baltimore curfew law?
The police are authorized to first issue a written warning. Upon a second curfew violation, the minor is to be taken home. If a parent cannot be reached at that time, minors are taken to a Youth Connection Center (YCC) to wait for the parent to retrieve them. Fines, which can be as much as $1,000 per violation, can be waived if the parent and minor agree to a counseling session to prevent further issues with curfew.
The specifics of the curfew are as follows.
- The daytime curfew requires minors under 16 years of age to be in school between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on any school day. There are exceptions for written excuses, parental supervision, or travel to and from school.
- The nighttime curfew demands that any person under the age of 14 must be home between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. of the following day, every day of the year. Persons between ages 14 and 17 must be home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weeknights during the school year, and 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekends during the school year. The summer restrictions are 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day of the week.
The exceptions to the nighttime curfew include: parental supervision; traveling in a car; exercising your First Amendment rights (with written authorization and explanation of activities from a parent); attending a religious, school or recreational activity; being involved in an emergency; or being on the sidewalk outside of one’s own residence.
What is the problem?
These laws have come under fire from community leaders for numerous constitutional reasons and concerns. Some argue that curfews deprive minors of their fundamental rights to freedom of movement and assembly, freedom of religion, or the freedom to parent. Others cite an equal protection violation in that treating those of a specific age differently under the law amounts to discrimination.
There is likewise dispute over the efficacy of this and other curfews in actually accomplishing the goal of reducing juvenile crime and victimization. In San Diego, juvenile crime stayed stagnant and victimization increased after a curfew was put in place. In Virginia, crime and victimization went down post-curfew implementation. The YCCs in Baltimore are located in blighted neighborhoods known for high crime rates and economic depression. The minors apprehended and taken to these facilities are five times more likely to be black or minority citizens.
The very nature of a curfew harkens back to some of the biggest constitutional violations in our country’s history. We imposed a curfew on Japanese Americans in California before they were interned in camps during World War II. Not to mention the curfews under slavery and segregation, or one of the tactics the British Empire utilized during the revolution.
The courts have been inconsistent on the constitutionality of curfews for minors.
What can I do?
Most importantly, if you or a loved one is being affected by these curfews, consider speaking with a reputable civil rights attorney to be certain that these laws are not overstepping the protections the constitution freely gives to you.