Vanderbilt Law Review


Brant K. Brown

First Page



"I think I should be the one setting the curfew, not the town."' Not surprisingly, juvenile curfew laws can elicit two opposing viewpoints. The first viewpoint, exemplified by the quote above, is that juvenile curfew laws, in any form, infringe on individual rights and are rarely, if ever, constitutional. The imposition is borne not only by the juveniles subject to the curfew, but also by their parents. The second viewpoint is that juvenile curfews serve at least two very important state purposes: they deter juveniles from committing crimes and protect them from being the victims of crimes perpetrated at night.! This conflict of viewpoints illustrates the battle between the individual rights of juveniles and their parents and the interests of the state in deterring crime and protecting its citizens.

Courts have differing views on how to approach and analyze the validity and constitutionality of juvenile curfews.' At the crux of this division among courts are the different standards of scrutiny applied by the courts when dealing with curfews. The Equal Protection Clause provides three possible standards for courts to use when deciding on the constitutionality of juvenile curfews: strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, and rational basis review. As courts arrive at different conclusions as to which standard is appropriate in juvenile curfew cases, they likewise arrive at different, and often conflicting, holdings.'

This Note seeks to take a step back from the scholarship concerning juvenile curfews and analyze the possible standards of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause that are available to courts within the context of juvenile curfew laws and juvenile rights protected by the Equal Protection Clause. Instead of merely summarizing the decisions reached by courts on the issue' or attempting to find a "perfect" and foolproof way to draft a curfew law or ordinance, this Note starts from the premise that the standard of analysis a court chooses to employ is more important than the exact wording of the curfew in question. The conflicting results reached by courts are in large part due to the different standards utilized by the courts and the lack of a unified approach in dealing with juvenile curfews. Lack of consistency in the selection of an appropriate judicial standard of analysis was demonstrated quite clearly in the opinions written by the judges in Hutchins ex rel. Owens v. District of Columbia." A three-judge panel reviewed the constitutionality of Washing- ton, D.C.'s juvenile curfew, and all three judges wrote a separate opinion, each judge using a different standard of scrutiny." This Note concludes that the appropriate standard of analysis for juvenile curfews is an intermediate standard of scrutiny. This standard takes into account the fact that the rights at issue when dealing with juvenile curfews should not trigger the highest level of scrutiny available. The intermediate level of analysis, requiring a "significant [state] interest" and a "substantial fit," provides the most appropriate standard for courts to use when deciding the constitutionality of juvenile curfews because it strikes the appropriate balance between protection of the rights at issue and the interests the state has in protecting its citizens."

In Part II, this Note provides a brief introduction to juvenile curfew ordinances, examining their common characteristics and the states' reasons for their implementation. Part III then describes the three levels of scrutiny available to courts when deciding a curfew's constitutionality under the Equal Protection Clause. It begins with rational basis review, the most deferential standard available. Fol- lowing the discussion of rational basis review, Part III then addresses both strict and, finally, intermediate scrutiny. After a discussion of each standard, Part III examines the specific application of each to juvenile curfew ordinances.

Part IV explores the rights implicated by juvenile curfew ordinances and focuses on the rights of the children and young adults subject to the restriction. This Part also examines the claims of juveniles to fundamental rights, such as the right to freedom of movement, often claimed to be infringed upon by curfew ordinances. Part V then examines the right of parents to raise their children as they see appropriate without undue state interference--a factor of analysis that becomes important when dealing with the restrictions imposed by juvenile curfews.

Part VI combines the discussion of scrutiny and individual rights and argues that the appropriate standard of analysis for courts to use when determining the constitutionality of juvenile curfews is intermediate scrutiny. Intermediate scrutiny is the only standard that strikes the appropriate balance between the rights at stake and the interests of the state in protecting juveniles and preventing crime.

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Juvenile Law Commons