Alaska teenagers sue city over curfew

On June 18, three teenagers in Alaska sued the city of Anchorage for violating their rights with a curfew. Brenna Riordan, David Treacy and Sam Williford, with the help of ACLU attorney, Mark Rindner, are seeking to have the law struck down.

The Anchorage curfew prevents anyone under the age of 18 from being out after 11 p.m. on school nights and 1 a.m. on the weekends and in the summer. The exceptions to the law include parental permission to be out past the designated curfew hour or anyone going to or from a job, religious activity or scholastic event. Fines for a curfew violation can range from $75 to $300.

Police cited two of the defendants for curfew violations even thought they seemed to be taking advantage of the exceptions. Riordan was cited while returning from a friend’s house after a religious activity. Treacy, who tried to use the Constitution as a defense by carrying a car that says he is exercising his First Amendment rights, received a curfew citation while working evening shifts.

One of the young men represented by the ACLU was spending the night at a friend’s house with his mother’s permission when he suddenly suffered an attack of an intestinal disease. At 2:00 a.m., he called his mother to ask if he could come home. Since he had borrowed the family car, his mother was unable pick him up and so gave him permission to drive himself home — a trip of approximately two miles.

On his way home, the young man was stopped by the Anchorage police and given a curfew citation. Even after his mother told the police what happened, the young man was still cited for violating the curfew, and he had to pay a heavy fine.

In the suit, the ACLU claims that the Anchorage curfew violates a number of state and federal constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, the right to equal protection of the laws, the right to due process, and the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.

“There are countless instances in which fairness and justice dictate that teens should be allowed to travel at night,” said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union. “No city council could possibly foresee every instance in which it would be good public policy to allow an exception to the curfew law. Therefore, parents should be empowered to make these decisions, since governments cannot.”

Anchorage politicians passed the curfew in 1996 and that year the police cited 1,543 people. They still continue to arrest about 100 people per month and may have already violated the constitutional rights of 400 people this year.

In 1997, the Alaska Libertarian Party placed a referendum on the ballot that asked voters if they would like to repeal the curfew. Alaskans voted against the referendum but local Libertarians were still proud that voters were able to vote on the issue. Since the vote, Libertarians have continued to protest the curfew.

Now, two years after the referendum, the courts will decide the fate of the curfew.

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