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Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly

Abstract

Youth is not a crime. Every person, regardless of age, is entitled to the protections of the United States Constitution. This seemingly apparent fact is not a reality for America's children, who are often treated as less than "full citizens" solely because of their age. The explosive proliferation of juvenile curfew ordinances in municipalities across California is one example of such treatment. Curfews have traditionally been used as a method of social control, often imposed in times of great upheaval and emergency, but have recently become the easy solution for communities exasperated by rising juvenile crime and violence. Although curfews have deep historical roots, communities should question curfews imposed as blanket restrictions upon a group of individuals based solely upon their age.

Most courts have not addressed these general issues, but rather have approached claims that juvenile curfews are unconstitutional by applying the rational relation test to the specific ordinance. California, in particular, has only three cases on record addressing the constitutionality of juvenile curfews. The United States Supreme Court has offered no guidance on this issue, and the California Supreme Court has avoided addressing the general constitutionality of blanket juvenile curfew ordinances. As a result, California municipalities continue to pass these ordinances. However, this is not the only available course of action. This Note offers a solution to the competing interests of children's civil liberties and the government's interest in protecting children from violence and crime. If the system is restructured so that only juvenile courts impose juvenile curfews as conditions of probation, infringement of children's rights by blanket curfews would be avoided. Accordingly, curfews would be imposed upon those youths who have demonstrated a need for such guidance. Such a creative compromise can avoid what has come to be perceived as the criminalization of childhood in California.

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