When children, particularly teenagers, congregate in large groups, it tends to make adults nervous. It's also the cause of many curfew laws and ordinances that restrict juveniles from being in public places at certain hours. Curfew laws are very common, especially in cities, though some states have adopted statewide curfew laws as well. Not all cities or states have curfew laws or ordinances, and restrictions can differ significantly.
Age, Place, and Time
Curfew laws typically restrict people younger than 16, 17, or 18 from remaining or loitering outside at night, or between specified hours. For example, a curfew may restrict juveniles from remaining outdoors between 11:00 at night and 5:00 in the morning Monday through Thursday; and between midnight and 6:00 in the morning on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or on legal holidays.
However, curfews may also apply during daylight hours as well. For example, a juvenile who is not in school, such as a child who has been suspended or expelled, may not loiter or remain outdoors during school hours.
Curfew laws are not blanket prohibitions against juveniles remaining in an area during specified hours. These laws allow for exceptions, such as when the teen is accompanied by a parent or guardian. Other common exceptions include running errands for parents or guardians, traveling to or returning from work or school activities, engaging in a constitutionally protected activity, or attending a school, religious, or civic activity. Curfew ordinances may also allow for juveniles to remain on a sidewalk connected to the juvenile's home, or a sidewalk connected to a neighbor's property, as long as the neighbor has not complained to the police.
Presence or Loitering
Curfew laws and ordinances prohibit underage people from staying, remaining, or loitering in an area. This is different than simply being present somewhere. For example, there is no curfew violation if a group of juveniles passes through a public area at a time after curfew. However, if some of those juveniles decide to stay behind to loiter, they may violate curfew laws.
Riots, Disorder, and Emergencies
In some situations curfew laws can restrict non-juveniles as well. In situations where there is some kind of emergency, such as threatening wild fires, a hurricane, rioting, or other similar events, governments may impose curfew laws that restrict anyone from moving during specified periods. For example, a city might impose a curfew that requires people to stay in their homes from sundown to sunup. These curfews are rare, but they are also typically more restrictive. Such dusk-to-dawn curfews may, for example, restrict all vehicle and pedestrian movement unless it's related to emergency personnel, law enforcement, or other exempted groups.
There are also curfew laws that specifically apply to businesses, limiting the time when certain businesses can operate. For example, a business curfew law might require a restaurant or liquor store to close by 11:00 pm, or require a bar to stop serving alcohol after 2:00 in the morning. Business curfew restrictions vary widely among cities and states.
Curfews may also apply to people sentenced to home confinement or house arrest. For example, people on house arrest might be permitted to leave the home for work or medical emergencies, but otherwise cannot leave their homes between 6 pm and 6 am.
Curfew laws typically involve very light penalties, and a juvenile violating curfew may not be punished at all in some situations. However, repeated curfew violations, or violations of emergency or business curfews, can have harsher penalties associated with them. Also, parents or guardians of a juvenile who violates curfew may also be penalized in some situations.
- Warnings, detention, and release. In many curfew violation situations, especially where a juvenile has not previously violated curfew, a law enforcement officer will issue the juvenile a verbal or written warning. A repeat offender may be taken into custody and held at a police station or juvenile center until parents or guardians arrive to take custody, or the officer may take the juvenile to the home and speak to the parents.
- Fines. Some curfew violations may result in a fine for the juvenile or the juvenile's parents or guardians. Fines can differ significantly, but are typically in the $50 to $250 range.
- Community service. Courts can also order a juvenile curfew violator, as well as parents or guardians, to serve a community service sentence or education class. For example, teens who violate curfew may be ordered to attend a class along with their parents or guardians for a first-time offense. For a second offense, the court may order the teen to perform community service.
- Jail. In some situations, a parent may be sentenced to serve jail time for a child's repeated juvenile curfew violations, while a juvenile may be ordered into juvenile detention. These situations are rare, but they are possible in some areas.
- Other penalties. Violations of emergency or penal curfews are typically more severe. A person who, for example, leaves his home while under house arrest may be ordered to serve his remaining sentence in jail or prison, while someone who violates an emergency ordinance can be arrested and face significant fines or jail time.
Talk to an Attorney
Even though curfew violations by teenagers may seem insignificant, it's important for all parents, guardians, and juveniles to understand that you can face significant penalties for a curfew violation. Any time you or your child is facing a curfew violation, you always have the right to speak to an attorney. A local attorney who is familiar with the state and local curfew rules is the only person who is qualified to speak to you about your case, evaluate your options, and give you advice about what you should do next.
Adults who are facing a curfew charge may be well served by speaking with an experienced attorney also. In particular, if you've violated a house arrest condition of probation, you'll want the assistance of an attorney at your probation violation hearing. Any adult who is arrested for violating an emergency curfew will benefit similarly.