Case of teen cited for walking to Burger King compelled Wanaque Borough Council to repeal unconstitutional ordinance
NEWARK – Following a successful settlement between the ACLU-NJ and the Borough of Wanaque, the borough at its Monday night meeting repealed a restrictive ordinance that set a 10 p.m. curfew for juveniles. Under the terms of the settlement, the Passaic County borough repealed the ordinance in its entirety.
“Parents should be the ones responsible for setting curfews, not the municipal government,” said Linda Richardson, the plaintiff in the case. “I’m pleased that this misguided curfew policy is now stricken from the books. Parents in Wanaque once again have the ultimate say in deciding how late their teenagers, who are on the cusp of adulthood, can stay out and how early they can leave.”
The ACLU-NJ challenged the ordinance in March 2013 on behalf of Richardson, a Wanaque resident, and her daughter Shaina. Shaina, who was 17 at the time and attending community college, was cited by police for walking to Burger King after 10 p.m.
“The repeal of this ordinance is a victory for the constitutional rights of parents and young people alike,” said Edward Kiel, who handled the case as an attorney with the Hackensack law firm Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard. “Parents should be free to exercise their own judgment and to determine whether their children are mature enough to be outside past 10 p.m.”
Shaina had her parents’ permission to walk to Burger King, which is located across the street from her family’s mailbox. On her walk back from the fast food chain, a police officer stopped her to ask why she was outside without an adult. Her stepfather came immediately, but the officer issued a citation, which could carry a $100 fine and the potential for 15 hours of community service.
Under the Wanaque ordinance, no one under the age of 18 could be in a public location in the town between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., seven days a week, 365 days of the year. The ordinance made only a few, narrow and somewhat ambiguous exceptions, including minors travelling with parental accompaniment, in cases of emergency, for school-related functions, and to exercise First Amendment rights. The ordinance, adopted in December 2005, punished both minors and parents with a fine of $100 and 15 hours of community service for a first offense and up to $1,000 and 50 hours of community service for multiple offenses.
“The ordinance included an exemption for First Amendment expression, but without freedom of movement, it’s next to impossible to exercise those other rights,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. “Fortunately, the repeal of this ordinance will mean that young people in Wanaque are free to venture outside without needing their town’s permission, whether it’s to jog in the neighborhood before school, to walk their dog, or to walk home from the house of a friend down the block after watching a late-night movie.”
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 2001, 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.”