Alaska high court upholds Anchorage curfew

By The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Three families who sued to overturn Anchorage's juvenile curfew law have lost in a unanimous decision issued by the Alaska Supreme Court.

The municipality has a "compelling interest in protecting juveniles and curbing juvenile crime," said the 37-page opinion upholding the law.

Strengthening the city curfew law and enforcing it against minors "moving about in public with no purpose or with an improper purpose" during curfew hours is a reasonable approach to the problem, the justices said in the May 14 decision in Treacy v. Municipality of Anchorage.

Anchorage had a curfew for years but it was rarely enforced. In 1996, in response to police reports of juvenile-crime problems, the Anchorage Assembly wrote a new law, patterned after a Dallas ordinance upheld by a federal appeals court.

In 1997, an Anchorage resident who objected to curfews on civil rights grounds collected enough signatures to put the question on the ballot. Voters affirmed the law.

The three families who sued in 1999 all had children who had been ticketed as minors for being out during curfew hours, allegedly with their parents' permission but without the required parental note or other legally valid reason.

They claimed the law was unconstitutionally vague and allowed police to sweep up young people who were not doing anything wrong. The curfew violated a number of rights, they charged, including the right to travel, the right to privacy, the right of parents to raise their children and the First Amendment rights of expression and association.

The state high court said the law was not vague. Anyone reading it would understand that minors must be at home during curfew hours unless they qualify for one of the exceptions, which include being accompanied by a parent or on an errand at the written instruction of a parent, involved in an emergency, at work, right outside home, attending a supervised activity or exercising a First Amendment right.

The rights cited by the plaintiffs are important but not absolute, the justices said. They can be infringed if the government has a compelling interest to protect and goes about it in the least restrictive way.

Police statistics showed high numbers of juvenile arrests and juvenile victimization between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Since the ordinance passed, those crime categories are down, which could be a result of the curfew or merely reflective of overall decreases in crime in Alaska, said the opinion, written for the court by Justice Walter Carpeneti.

The curfew imposes little burden on minors under 18, the justices concluded, requiring only that they be inside from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weeknights during the school year and from 1 to 5 a.m. on weekends and during the summer. It includes many exceptions for minors who have legitimate reasons to be out during those hours.

As for parental rights, the state has broad power to limit parents' authority in matters affecting a child's welfare, the opinion said. Parents can get around the curfew by giving their children signed, dated notes of permission to be out, or by accompanying them. It does not violate the rights of parents who "knowingly permit or, by insufficient control allow, their children to commit violations."