Appellate Court Strikes Down West New York Curfew Ordinance

July 29, 2004

TRENTON, NJ — Ruling in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court upheld a ruling that had struck down a West New York curfew ordinance as unconstitutional.

The Town of West New York had appealed the ruling of Chancery Division Judge Martin L. Greenberg, Hudson County, granting plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. In its ruling, the Appellate Division recognized that there was a “strong constitutional presumption in favor of parental authority over government authority.” The Appellate Division went on to hold that the West New York curfew ordinance was unconstitutional because it was “not broad enough to recognize the right of parents to permit their children to participate in many legitimate activities” and because the terms of the ordinance were unconstitutionally vague.

The suit was brought on behalf of two families whose children had been arrested under the curfew by David M. Kohane, an attorney in the Hackensack law firm of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard, who is handling the case for the ACLU-NJ. The Appellate Divisions ruling lets stand a permanent injunction that was issued by the lower court in September 1999 that prevents West New York from enforcing the ordinance.

West New York's curfew ordinance, which was enacted in 1993, prohibited minors from being in a public place between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. unless accompanied by their parent or guardian. The ordinance provides exceptions for juveniles traveling to or from work, engaged in a medical emergency, or traveling to or from events sponsored by community or religious organizations. Curfew violators and their parents are subject to fines of up to $1,000, and up to 90 days community service.

“The ruling gives families in the township the freedom and respect they deserve,” said David Kohane attorney for the plaintiffs. Kohane noted that the teenagers involved in the ACLU lawsuit have been arrested for curfew violations while returning home from delivering cake to a grandparent, eating in a restaurant with an adult friend, walking home from work at McDonalds, and walking home with friends from a movie. “It makes no sense to criminalize the innocent activities of these teenagers, and numerous other good kids like them, for problems they haven't caused.”

“The proper response to juvenile crime is to arrest the criminals,” Kohane added, “not to place all law-abiding young people under house arrest. The police already have the ability to arrest juvenile when they break the law; the curfew would have added nothing except giving police the right to arrest the innocent as well.”

Studies have repeatedly shown that curfews are an ineffective crime-fighting tool. A recent comprehensive study of curfew enforcement in California by the Justice Policy Institute found that curfew enforcement had no discernible effect on juvenile crime, and in many jurisdictions, juvenile crime actually increased. In addition, federal crime statistics show that the majority of juvenile crimes occur during non-curfew hours, peaking between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

The ACLU lawsuit — Betancourt v. Township of West New York, docket number A-711-99T2 was originally filed on January 19, 1999. Plaintiffs were represented by David M. Kohane of the Hackensack law firm of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard.

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