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 of these approaches.
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." RCW 35.21.635; RCW 35A.11.210; RCW 36.32.425; RCW 13.32A.050. These statutes prohibit criminal penalties for curfew violations.
Curfew and parental responsibility ordinances have, however, raised constitutional concerns, and they have not fared well in the Washington courts. In the most recent state appellate court decision regarding juvenile curfews, the state supreme court, in City of Sumner v. Walsh, 148 Wn.2d 490 (2003), invalidated a city of Sumner curfew and parental responsibility ordinance on the ground that it was unconstitutionally vague. The court held that Sumner's ordinance, which makes 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."
Consequently, if a city, town, or county has enacted or is considering enacting 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 there may be sufficient legal justification for a juvenile curfew, and on how an ordinance may be properly crafted or amended to comply with constitutional limitations.
- 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 13.32A.050 - Authorizing law enforcement officers to take children into custody for violating a local curfew ordinance
- City of Sumner v. Walsh, 148 Wn.2d 490 (2003) - Curfew ordinance unconstitutional
The state supreme court held that Sumner's curfew ordinance, which makes it unlawful for juveniles to "remain" in a public place during certain hours, is 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 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 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 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.
Note that the state supreme court's decision in City of Sumner v. Walsh, 148 Wn.2d 490 (2003), does not necessarily mean that all curfew ordinances in this state are unconstitutional. However, the language of any curfew ordinance should be reviewed in light of the holding in that case.
- Auburn Municipal Code Ch. 9.10 - Curfew Hours for Juveniles
- Pacific Municipal Code Ch. 9.60 - Juvenile Curfew
- Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 8.109 - Curfew Hours for Minors