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Juvenile Curfews

​This page provides a general overview of juvenile curfew or parental responsibility ordinances that some Washington cities, towns, and counties have passed in reaction to concerns about both juvenile crime and juvenile safety. Because courts have found such ordinances to be unconstitutional, MRSC does not recommend adoption of juvenile curfew ordinances or their enforcement.


Overview

During the 1990s, a number of Washington cities, towns, and counties passed juvenile curfew or parental responsibility ordinances in reaction to concerns about both juvenile crime and juvenile safety. Curfew ordinances prohibit, with certain identified exceptions, juveniles from being in public places during certain night hours and subject them to potential civil fines, while parental responsibility ordinances impose civil penalties on parents of minor children found in violation of curfew restrictions. Some ordinances combine both approaches.

MRSC recommends Washington local governments not enact any new curfews and consider repeal of existing curfew ordinances. For those jurisdictions that have already enacted a curfew or parental responsibility ordinance, MRSC recommends that the city or town attorney or the county prosecuting attorney, as the case may be, be consulted concerning the impact of these court decisions on whether a juvenile curfew ordinance may be properly crafted or amended to comply with constitutional limitations. In addition to the constitutional and potential liability issues surrounding curfews, there is also national research showing that curfews have failed to reduce crime among juveniles. 


Legal References

In 1994, the Washington State Legislature provided specific statutory authority for cities, towns, and counties to enact juvenile curfews "for the purpose of preserving the public safety or reducing acts of violence by or against juveniles at such rates as to be beyond the capacity of the police to assure public safety." These statutes prohibit criminal penalties for curfew violations:

  • RCW 35.21.635 — Authorizing any "any city or town" to adopt juvenile curfew ordinances
  • RCW 35A.11.210 — Authorizing code cities to adopt juvenile curfew ordinances
  • RCW 36.32.425 — Authorizing counties to adopt juvenile curfew ordinances
  • RCW 43.184C.260 — Authorizes law enforcement officers to take children into custody for a variety of reasons, including violating a local curfew ordinance

Court Challenges

Curfew and parental responsibility ordinances have not fared well in the Washington courts as reviewing courts have held such ordinances to be unconstitutional.

Court Decisions

  • City of Sumner v. Walsh, 148 Wn.2d 490 (2003) — Curfew ordinance found unconstitutional. The state supreme court held that Sumner's curfew ordinance, which made it unlawful for juveniles to "remain" in a public place during certain hours, was unconstitutionally vague, because "it does not provide 'ascertainable standards for locating the line between innocent and unlawful behavior'." The court noted that "it may be difficult for a city to draft a curfew ordinance that is not unconstitutionally vague."
  • State v. J.D., 86 Wn. App. 501 (1997) — Curfew ordinance found unconstitutional. The state court of appeals held that the city of Bellingham's juvenile curfew ordinance "infringes on minors' fundamental freedom of movement and expression and is not narrowly tailored to address the problem of juvenile crime" and is unconstitutionally vague.
  • State v. Pullman, 82 Wn.2d 794 (1973) — Curfew ordinance found unconstitutional. The state supreme court held a Seattle curfew ordinance to be unconstitutional while stating that juvenile curfew ordinances "may be permissible where they are specific in their prohibitions and necessary in curing a demonstrated social evil."
  • Nunez v. City of San Diego, 114 F.3d 935 (9th Cir. 1997) — Curfew ordinance found unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared a San Diego, California juvenile curfew ordinance to be unconstitutional for reasons similar to those relied upon by the Washington State Court of Appeals in State v. J.D.

Ordinances

The sample ordinances define curfew hours between 12:00—6:00 am, contain a combination of a juvenile curfew and parental responsibility requirements, and allow for police officers to take any juvenile in violation of the curfew into temporary custody. The offense is defined as remaining in a public place or premises during curfew hours. Remaining in a public place or premises is defined as failing to leave after being asked to do so by a police officer or operator of a premises.  There are ten defenses listed including employment activities, errands for a parent or guardian, travel to or from a school or religious activity, and exercising constitutionally protected first amendment rights. Violations are civil infractions treated as traffic citations.  These sample ordinances require evaluation and review every three years.


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Last Modified: April 05, 2019