It is often said that nothing good happens after 2 a.m. In keeping with that idea, a number of North Carolina municipalities have imposed curfews that prohibit juveniles from being out past a certain hour. Are such curfews permissible? How strict may they be? Must they have exceptions? I am sometimes asked about curfews, and although I don’t claim any special expertise, I thought I’d do my best to address some of those questions in this post.
Adult curfews. This post focuses on juvenile curfews. That’s because standing adult curfews are almost certainly unlawful, as “the right to travel upon the public streets . . . is a part of every individual’s liberty, protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and by the Law of the Land Clause . . . of the Constitution of North Carolina.” State v. Dobbins, 277 N.C. 484 (1971).
Under limited circumstances, adult curfews are permissible. Primarily, cities and counties may impose adult curfews during states of emergency pursuant to G.S. 166A-19.31(b)(1). See Dobbins, supra (upholding the validity of a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew imposed for several days in Asheville in response to unrest at Asheville High School); United States v. Chalk, 441 F.2d 1277 (4th Cir. 1971) (same, and describing the unrest as “a battle between police officers and black students”; this Asheville Citizen Times article provides additional information about what took place at the school, which was integrated in the fall of 1969). Individualized curfews may also be imposed on adult probationers and others subject to supervision, a topic Jamie addressed here.
Statutory basis for juvenile curfews. Juvenile curfews are authorized by G.S. 153A-142, which provides that “[a] county may by an appropriate ordinance impose a curfew on persons of any age less than 18,” and by G.S. 160A-198, which states that “[a] city may by an appropriate ordinance impose a curfew on persons of any age less than 18.” Quite a few North Carolina cities have juvenile curfews, but my impression is that county curfews are rare.
Individual curfews may be imposed as a part of juvenile probation pursuant to G.S. 7B-2510(a)(8). Like adult curfews, juvenile probation curfews are beyond the scope of this post.
Typical provisions. Juvenile curfews typically (1) prohibit juveniles from being in a public place during certain hours, and (2) create exceptions to the general prohibition. For example, Greensboro makes it unlawful for a juvenile to be “in any public place or on the premises of any establishment within the downtown business district” from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., subject to twelve exceptions, including when accompanied by a parent or guardian, when going to or from work, when “responding to an emergency,” or when “[e]xercising First Amendment rights.” Greensboro Ordinances § 18-60 et seq. Rocky Mount prohibits juveniles from being in public places or business establishments from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weeknights and from midnight to 6 a.m. on weekends, with ten exceptions. Rocky Mount Ordinances §19-121. Wake Forest uses the same hours as Rocky Mount but with just five enumerated exceptions. Wake Forest Ordinances §20-131.
Constitutional concerns. Juvenile curfews may implicate a number of constitutional concerns, including vagueness, infringement on a minor’s right to travel, infringement on a minor’s right to engage in communicative activities protected by the First Amendment, and infringement on a parent’s right to raise his or her child as the parent sees fit. The severity of these concerns will depend on the clarity with which the curfew ordinance is drafted, its scope, and the findings that support it.
Lack of binding case law. North Carolina’s appellate courts have never addressed the constitutionality of a juvenile curfew, leaving state courts without binding precedent. North Carolina’s federal courts are bound by Schleifer v. City of Charlottesville, 159 F.3d 843 (4th Cir. 1998), which upheld Charlottesville’s juvenile curfew. However, the curfew in that case was quite limited in scope, as it applied only to individuals age 16 and under, and ran only from midnight to 5 a.m. on weeknights, and from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. on weekends, subject to “eight enumerated exceptions.” Many North Carolina curfews are more restrictive than that, meaning that Schleifer will not often be directly applicable. In any event, the fact that Charlottesville’s curfew was permissible in Charlottesville does not necessarily mean that it would be permissible in another municipality with no history of juvenile crime.
Sources of persuasive authority. There are many cases on point from other jurisdictions. They adopt varying approaches and reach different results. Rather than attempting to catalog the cases here, I suggest that those who are interested consult the following sources:
- Danny R. Veilleux, Validity, construction, and effect of juvenile curfew regulations, 83 A.L.R. 4th 1056 (orig. pub. 1991) (collecting state and federal cases nationwide and noting that the validity of curfew ordinances frequently depends on the “scope [and] clarity” of the ordinances)
- Harvard Law Review Association, Note, Juvenile Curfews and the Major Confusion over Minor Rights, 118 Harv. L. Rev. 2400 (2005) (collecting federal cases and arguing that the courts have adopted “contradictory and confusing” approaches to curfews)
- Thomas H. Thornburg, Popular Government (Fall 1995) (discussing the law from a North Carolina perspective and making recommendations to local governments; note that this article was written before G.S. 153A-143 and G.S. 160A-198 were enacted and before Schleifer was decided) (available here)
- Daniel M. Blau, Juvenile Curfews: Constitutional Concerns and Recommended Remedies, Popular Government (Spring/Summer 2007) (analyzing Schleifer and other cases and offering recommendations for municipalities drafting curfew ordinances) (available here)
Conclusion. Although there are few definitive answers in this area, I hope that the above is helpful to those interested in legal aspects of juvenile curfews. Whether juvenile curfews are effective public policy is a separate question. I’m mildly skeptical about that, but a very recent literature review suggesting that curfews may have a positive impact is here.