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A curfew is a law, regulation, or ordinance that forbids particular people or particular classes of people from being outdoors in public places at certain specified times of the day.

Juvenile Curfews

Local ordinances and state statutes may make it unlawful for minors below a certain age to be on public streets, unless they are accompanied by a parent or an adult or on lawful and necessary business on behalf of their parents or guardians. For example, a Michigan state law provides that "[n]o minor under the age of 12 years shall loiter, idle or congregate in or on any public street, highway, alley or park between the hours of 10 o'clock p.m. and 6 o'clock a.m., unless the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian, or some adult delegated by the parent or guardian to accompany the child." MCLA § 722.751; MSA § 28.342(1). Curfew laws in other states and cities typically set forth different curfews for minors of different ages.

Curfew laws and ordinances have been sustained as necessary to control the presence of juveniles in public places at nighttime with the attendant risk of mischief. In re Osman, 109 Ohio App. 3d 731, 672 N.E.2d 1114 (1996). Courts have found that curfew ordinances promote the safety and good order of the community by reducing the incidence of juvenile criminal activity. Schleifer v. City of Charlottesville, 159 F.3d 843 (4th Cir. 1998).

Curfew laws have generally been upheld against constitutional challenges on First Amendment and due process grounds. Hodgkins ex rel. Hodgkins v. Peterson, 175 F. Supp. 2d 1132 (S.D. Ind. 2001). One federal court held that minors have no fundamental right to freedom of movement or travel that protects them from restrictions imposed by curfew laws. Hutchins v. District of Columbia, 188 F.3d 531,(D.C. Cir. 1999). However, a juvenile curfew ordinance that exempted minors who had graduated from high school was found to violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In re Mosier, 59 Ohio Misc. 83, 394 N.E.2d 368, 13 O.O.3d 290 (Ohio Com. Pl. 1978).

In some instances, courts will find particular language in a juvenile curfew law to be impermissibly vague under the "void for vagueness" doctrine (a Fifth Amendment doctrine that requires all laws to be sufficiently clear that persons of average intelligence will understand in advance which conduct is prohibited). If possible, courts will simply delete offending language from the law so that what remains passes constitutional muster. For example, one curfew law allowed the city's mayor to issue permits for minors to use public streets during prohibited times if the mayor found that such use was "consistent with the public interest." A California state court held that that language failed to provide any standards by which the mayor could lawfully exercise the discretion to grant permits. The court deleted the language but said the mayor could still grant permits when to do so would be consistent with the purposes of ordinance as expressly set forth therein. Bykofsky v. Borough of Middletown, 401 F. Supp. 1242 (M.D. Pa. 1975).

Curfew as a Condition of Probation

State laws typically allow courts to impose curfews on criminal defendants as a condition of pre-trial release, and on probationers as a condition for successful discharge from Probation. Defendants and probationers who are subject to curfews can be ordered to pay the cost of monitoring their compliance with the terms of the order. Curfew violations can result in the revocation of probation or termination of the pretrial release bond.

However, curfew orders themselves must be reasonable, and courts must be careful to explain the rationale underlying them. Orders imposing curfews that are harsh or excessive, for example, have been invalidated. People v. Braun, 177 A.D. 2d 981, 578 N.Y.S.2d (1991). Similarly, orders that cite no justification for a curfew have also been overturned. People v Sztuk, 126 A.D. 2d 950, 511 N.Y.S.2d 720 (1987).

Adult Curfews & Strict Scrutiny

Curfews directed at adults touch upon fundamental constitutional rights and thus are subject to strict judicial scrutiny. The U. S. Supreme Court has ruled that "[t]he right to walk the streets, or to meet publicly with one's friends for a noble purpose or for no purpose at all—and to do so whenever one pleases—is an integral component of life in a free and ordered society." Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 US 156, 164, 31 L. Ed. 2d 110, 92 S. Ct 839 (1972).

To satisfy strict-scrutiny analysis, a government-imposed curfew on adults must be supported by a compelling state interest that is narrowly tailored to serve the curfew's objective. Court's are loath to find that an interest advanced by the government is compelling. The more justifications that courts find to uphold a curfew on adults, the more watered-down becomes the fundamental right to travel and to associate with others in public places at all times of the day.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this right may be legitimately curtailed when a community has been ravaged by flood, fire, or disease, or when its safety and Welfare are otherwise threatened. Zemel v. Rusk, 381 U.S. 1, 85 S. Ct. 1271, 14 L. Ed. 2d 179 (1965). The California Court of Appeals cited this ruling in a case that reviewed an order issued by the city of Long Beach, California, which declared a state of emergency and imposed curfews on all adults (and minors) within the city's confines after widespread civil disorder broke out following the Rodney G. King beating trial, in which four white Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of using excessive force in subduing an African-American motorist following a high-speed traffic chase. In re Juan C., 28 Cal. App. 4th 1093, 33 Cal. Rptr. 2d 919 (Cal. App. 1994).

"Rioting, looting and burning," the California court wrote, "pose a similar threat to the safety and welfare of a community, and provide a compelling reason to impose a curfew." "The right to travel is a hollow promise when members of the community face the possibility of being beaten or shot by an unruly mob if they attempt to exercise this right," the court continued, and "[t]emporary restrictions on the right… are a reasonable means of reclaiming order from anarchy so that all might exercise their constitutional rights freely and safely."

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a rule requiring people to stay off the streets at certain times, usually in times of emergency. There are powers allowing a local authority or the police (after confirmation by the Secretary of State) to ban children under 10 from being in a particular public place during specified hours (which must fall in the period 9pm and 6am), otherwise than under the control of a parent or responsible adult (Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as amended by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001). Any child found in breach of a curfew may be returned home, or to a place of safety if there are serious concerns about the child's safety in the family home.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

CURFEW. The name of a law, established during the reign of the English king, William, the conqueror, by which the people were commanded to dispense with fire and candle at eight o'clock at night.
     It was abolished in the reign of Henry I., but afterwards it signified the time at which the curfew formerly took place. The word curfew is derived, probably, from couvre few, or cover fire. 4 Bl. Com. 419, 420.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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Vendredi matin, lors d'une conference retransmise a la television, le general Omar Zinelabidine- presente comme le chef du Comite politique du Conseil militaire- a tente d'apaiser les manifestants qui ont brave le couvre-feu, impose de 20H00 GMT a 02H00 GMT, pour marquer leur refus d'une transition militaire.
"Le couvre-feu a ete leve ce matin mais nous gardons une forte presence sur la zone", a declare un porte-parole de la police.
Les putschistes ont decrete un couvre-feu nocturne de 19H00 a 06H00 et ordonne la fermeture des frontieres terrestres et aeriennes jusqu'a nouvel ordre.
Un habitant de la ville voisine de Gyobinggauk a indique que les autorites avaient annonce un couvre-feu par haut-parleur.
La chaine publique turque de television avait diffuse peu avant minuit un communique des [beaucoup moins que] forces armees turques [beaucoup plus grand que], faisant etat de la proclamation de la loi martiale et d'un couvre-feu dans tout le pays.
Deux jours apres la journee la plus sanglante -578 morts et plus de 3.000 blesses- depuis la chute de Hosni Moubarak en fevrier 2011, les violences relancent les craintes que l'Eegypte -sous etat d'urgence et oE un couvre-feu nocturne a ete impose dans la moitie des provinces- ne plonge dans le chaos.
Et les rues de la ville etaient parcourues hier, apres une deuxieme nuit consecutive sous couvre-feu, par des groupes armes de batons et de couteaux, selon des journalistes de l'AFP sur place.
Elle rythme, a l'heure de la multiplication des attentats, la bataille du sud destinee a deloger les rebelles kurdes des zones urbaines de Sur, Cizre, Silopi, Yuksekova, mais egalement de Nusaybin et Sirnak soumises a un couvre-feu. Face a la menace terroriste, la communaute internationale a ete prompte a declarer l'entiere solidarite avec la Turquie.
L'absence de securite et le couvre-feu qui ont perturbe le fonctionnement des ports egyptiens, les greves de ces derniers mois ont affecte la production et les exportations.
Ce sont ces jeunes -- qui n'ont connu que lui comme leader -- qui ont brave ses ordres et sont restes dans les rues du Caire toute la nuit, en depit du couvre-feu! Ce sont egalement ces jeunes qui ont tague [beaucoup moins que]A bas Moubarak[beaucoup plus grand que] sur les blindes de l'armee egyptienne qui a remplace les forces du ministere de l'interieur, honni par les descendants des Pharaons!