ROCHESTER, N.Y. New York’s top court invalidated Rochester’s juvenile curfew yesterday, saying the nearly three-year-old ban on children appearing on the streets or in public places at night violates the constitutional rights of teenagers and parents.
The measure, intended to curb crime involving children under age 17, was triggered by the slayings of seven youngsters in Rochester, including a pregnant 16-year-old girl.
In a 5-2 ruling in Jiovon Anonymous v City of Rochester, the state Court of Appeals said the September 2006 ordinance gives parents too little flexibility and autonomy in supervising their children. The curfew also violates the children’s rights to freedom of movement, freedom of expression and association, and equal protection under the law, the court said.
A majority of judges said the rationale for the curfew was undermined by statistics showing young people in Rochester were more likely to be involved in a crime either as a victim or offender when the curfew was not in effect.
“Quite simply, the proof offered by the city fails to support the aims of the curfew,” the court said, noting that two of three killings cited by police occurred outside curfew hours and the third victim was already barred from being out late at night.
The curfew extended from midnight to 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on other nights. Mayor Robert Duffy said the ordinance would be lifted immediately.
“Unfortunately, this decision takes away our capacity to use the curfew as a common sense public safety tool,” the mayor said. “We will continue to take other steps to help save young lives and we will do that without apology. ... But if a young life is lost during curfew hours, this community needs to ask itself if the loss could have been prevented.”
Dissenting judges maintained that unsupervised minors do not have a fundamental right to move freely. Other crime data show 45% of killings in Rochester from 2000 to 2005 including most of the 13 slayings of juveniles occurred during curfew hours, they said.
But the majority countered that if “it is enough that from 2000 to 2005, a number of juveniles were victimized at night, then the same statistics would justify, perhaps even more strongly, imposing a juvenile curfew during all hours outside of school since far more victimization occur during those hours.”
Michael Adams Burger, a lawyer for a Rochester father and his teenage son who challenged the ordinance, said 709 children were picked up between October 2006 and June 2008. While police can simply send teens home, many were interrogated, frisked, handcuffed and taken to a children’s center, facing a criminal violation, although the district attorney has declined to prosecute, he said.
A 2005 survey of 436 municipalities by the National League of Cities found that more than half had curfews, with 96% of those saying the curfews help curb crime.
Rochester officials wouldn’t rule out the possibility of further appeals.
Federal appeals courts around the country have been split on juvenile curfew cases, and the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to take up the issue.
A divided U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld Washington’s curfew, citing “reams of evidence depicting the devastating impact of juvenile crime and victimization.” The court noted the violent crime arrest rate for juveniles ages 10 to 17 was higher than in any state and more than three times the national average.