Teen cited for walking across street to Burger King with parent’s permission

Linda Richardson with her daughter
Shaina Harris in front of Burger King

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) has filed suit against the Borough of Wanaque after its police department issued a citation to a teenager for violating its juvenile curfew ordinance.

Shaina Harris, 17, was given the citation after she walked to a Burger King located across the street from her home around 11 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2012. Harris had parental permission to visit the restaurant to buy a milkshake.

“Wanaque’s curfew is an assault on the basic constitutional rights of juveniles in the borough to come and go as they please with their parents’ consent,” said Edward Kiel, an attorney in the Hackensack law firm of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard, who is handling the case for the ACLU-NJ. “These curfews wrongfully punish law-abiding people just trying to go about their daily lives freely, like our client.”

Wanaque’s curfew prohibits any juvenile from being in a public location in the town from 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., unless they satisfy one of several narrow exceptions set forth in the curfew ordinance.

Harris received her GED at age 16 and was already attending community college at the time of the incident. The Burger King she visited is directly across the street from where the family mailbox is located and garbage is collected.

When Harris walked back from the fast food chain, an officer stopped her near her family’s mailbox and asked why she was outside without adult supervision. Harris called her stepfather, who came immediately. The officer issued Harris a citation for violating the borough’s curfew. The citation carries a $100 fine and potential for 15 hours of community service.

“I was really surprised,” she said. “I had permission from my parents to go out and didn’t realize the police could write me up for something as harmless as walking across the street to Burger King.”

The ACLU-NJ recently represented Harris in municipal court where the court postponed the municipal hearing so that today’s lawsuit challenging the ordinance could be filed.

“I think parents are the ones who should determine and set curfews for their children, not the borough,” said Linda Richardson, the plaintiff in the case on behalf of her daughter. “My daughter already attends college; I trust her to walk across the street to Burger King.”

The ACLU-NJ has challenged juvenile curfews in the past. In 1999, it won an injunction preventing West New York from enforcing its curfew, which prohibited anyone under the age of 18 from being in a public place from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., unless accompanied by their parent or guardian. In 2004, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court upheld the 1999 injunction and ruled that West New York’s ordinance was unconstitutional. The court also recognized there was a “strong constitutional presumption in favor of parental authority over government authority.”

“Criminalizing ordinary, harmless teenage behavior shifts valuable and limited police resources away from crime prevention,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “This juvenile curfew law does not protect communities, but instead needlessly funnels young people into the criminal justice system.”

The lawsuit Richardson v. Borough of Wanaque was filed in Superior Court in Passaic County.

Attorneys David Kohane and David Gold of the Hackensack law firm of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard are also representing Harris.

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