High School Students
Does a Curfew Discriminate Against Young People?
(download this handout as a word document)
"No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
You Be the Judge!
For one day, you and your classmates will decide a legal case that actually came before a U.S. Court of Appeals. Hutchins v. The District of Columbia raised the issue of whether the city government has denied young people equal protection of the law and due process (and their parents due process) in passing a curfew ordinance.
The City Council of Washington DC passed a juvenile curfew law that was intended to reduce violence by and against youth in the city. Modeled on a Dallas, Texas, ordinance that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had held was constitutional, the law bars youth under 17 from being in public places from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on school nights and midnight to 6 on Friday and Saturday. Exceptions include youth who are accompanied by adults and emergency trips sanctioned by parents.
The law permits police officers to stop any young person and demand to know his or her age and reasons for being out during curfew hours. If the officer "reasonably believes" that a young person is violating the curfew, the individuals may be arrested and detained. A young person’s parents may also be punished for their child’s curfew violations.
Your Role as a Court
As a court, you have heard arguments in favor of the curfew made by the lawyer representing the City Council for Washington D.C. Their lawyer has pointed out many circumstances that justify the government in passing an ordinance that imposes certain restrictions on youth.
- the ordinance is a rational (reasonable) attempt by the city to confront a major problem
- the rate of crimes by and against youth is the highest in the country
- children are vulnerable and need special protection; they are unable to make decisions in an informed manner
- the curfew will protect children from the drug trade and other dangers more prevalent during night time hours
- it will protect the community from noise, vandalism and other misdeeds
- it will give parents greater control and responsibility for the movement of their children
And you’ve heard arguments from the lawyer representing youth in the District seeking to overturn the law. Their lawyer maintains that the ordinance adversely affects a number of constitutional rights of young people.
- broadly stifles liberty of children [14th Amendment] and denies them equal protection [14th Amendment]
- interferes with their right to association [1st Amendment]
- limits their participation in political, economic and religious activities [1st, 14th Amendments]
- limits their right to move about freely [14th Amendment]
- selective enforcement -- more likely to stop minority or poor children than those from affluent homes [14th Amendment]
- youth can be arrested without probable cause [4th Amendment]
- denies parents due process by making them criminally liable for their children’s curfew violations
- "It's unfair to punish good kids who are out trying to make something of themselves when only a small percentage are committing crimes in the city during curfew hours."
Judges of the court, how find you? In your opinion, address:
- Was the alleged discrimination by government?
- What rights are implicated?
- What level of scrutiny should be applied?
- Did the government meet its burden under the standard you've selected?
>>Does a Curfew Discriminate Against Young People?
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