New York's highest court, by a 5-2 vote, has struck down a curfew ordinance in the city of Rochester ruling that it infringed on parents' rights and lacked any statistical justification.
The curfew, which prohibits anyone under 16 from being out without a parent from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., was established in 2006 after the murder of three youths in the city. A minor could be out during curfew only if he was accompanied by a guardian or could prove that he was traveling to or from a job, school or religious event, recreational activity or a demonstration.
A challenge to a similar curfew ordinance is pending before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and a ruling is expected soon. That court heard arguments on the curfew April 6.
Although there have been challenges to various curfew laws across the country, with mixed results, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to accept a case about curfew laws. In 1998, the court declined to hear an appeal of a federal curfew case that originated in Virginia.
The New York Court of Appeals ruled in Anonymous v City of Rochester that the ordinance "fails to offer parents enough flexibility or autonomy in supervising their children," Judge Theodore Jones wrote for the majority.
The majority opinion also stated that the city simply lacked any compelling evidence that the curfew was set up to solve the stated problem; to lower juvenile crime and prevent children from being victims of crime.
The city "must show a substantial nexus between the burdens imposed by this curfew and the goals of protecting minors and preventing juvenile crime," Jones wrote. "The crime statistics produced by defendants do not support the objectives" of the curfew.
Minors were more likely to commit or be victims of crime outside curfew hours, according to those statistics. Adults committed 84 percent of the crimes committed, and were the victims of 87.8 percent of crimes, during curfew hours.
Judge Eugene Pigott, one of the two judges who dissented, wrote that the majority used statistics in a selective manner. "Of course minors are more likely to commit or be victims of crime outside curfew hours. For one thing, the curfew hours comprise only 40 out of the 168 hours in a week." In regard to adults' involvement in the majority of crime during curfew, he suggested that "adults, who make up three-quarters of the population, are more likely to do anything."
Pigott wrote that "most of the 13 juvenile murder victims in Rochester would have been in violation of the ordinance at the time of the murders."
One figure that was not addressed by either side: 94 percent of the 709 youths picked up on curfew violations were black or Hispanic, according to Michael Burger, attorney for the anonymous plaintiff in the case.