Florida appeals court upholds city’s juvenile curfew

Friday, May 19, 2000

The juvenile curfew ordinance of Pinellas Park, Fla., does not violate the First Amendment, a state appeals court has ruled.

The ordinance, adopted in May 1997, prohibits those under 18 from being in a public place between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. of the following day Sunday through Thursday and 12:01 a.m. through 6 a.m. on Saturday, Sunday and legal holidays. The ordinance also punishes parents who knowingly allow their children to violate the law.

The ordinance provides several exemptions, including “when the juvenile is attending or traveling to or from an activity that involves the exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (e.g., religious services, government meetings, political party meetings).”

Three juveniles, referred to in court papers only as T.M., A.N. and D.N., were charged in 1998 with violating the ordinance. The three juveniles filed a motion attacking the constitutionality of the ordinance on several grounds, including that the law was both overly broad and vague. They also alleged that it violated a parent’s fundamental right to raise her or his child.

In September 1998, a trial judge ruled the ordinance unconstitutional, finding that it did infringe on parents’ fundamental rights.

On appeal, the Florida Court of Appeals reversed that decision in a 2-1 ruling in State v. T.M. “Various courts have upheld juvenile curfew ordinances against constitutional challenges when the ordinances have been properly drafted,” the court wrote in its May 17 opinion. “Other courts, including this court, have struck down such ordinances for being overly broad, vague or for infringing on basic constitutional rights when the ordinances did not contain adequate exceptions.”

The appeals court majority determined that the curfew was not overly broad in part because it did not seek to regulate conduct protected by the First Amendment. “This ordinance does not seek to regulate expressive conduct, and contains a specific exception for those juveniles engaged in First Amendment activities,” the court wrote. “We are not convinced that the ordinance reaches a substantial amount of constitutionally protected conduct, and thus reject the assertion that it is overly broad and therefore unconstitutional.”

Judge Stevan T. Northcutt dissented, questioning whether the ordinance actually leads to a reduction in juvenile crime. “Like any other person of normal sensibilities, I surmise that confining young people to their homes at night lessens the chance that they would commit or fall victim to crimes. … When it (the government) ventures to impair a fundamental right, and to enforce that impairment with its powers to arrest and to prosecute, it must justify its edict by something more than surmise or intuition.”

Robert L. Hambrick, attorney for two of the juveniles, said that an appeal would “definitely” be filed.

“The ordinance is definitely overly broad,” he said. “The problem with exceptions is that there can’t possibly be an exception that covers the range of possibilities of activities that a parent may authorize a child to do. From my reading of the ordinance, a child could violate the ordinance for attending an all-night poetry reading.”

The assistant state attorney who handled the case for the state was out of the office and unavailable for comment.