The Unconstitutional Clinton, Louisiana Curfew

Local authorities in Clinton, Louisiana have taken a bold approach to fighting crime: close the town at 11pm and impose a general curfew. The mayor, city council and police chief are apparently all on the same page in defending the measure:

“The main reason is we have people standing in the street. We have cars from different areas riding through the town at all times of the night,” Police Chief Fredrick Dunn said. “It’s to keep the juveniles as well as the adults off the street because it’s more than the juveniles that’s walking and hanging in the street.”

Violators will receive a warning. Repeat violators face criminal charges, and possibly jail time. That’s right, jail time.

The only problem is that the entire scheme is blatantly unconstitutional.

Curfews aimed at adults implicate fundamental constitutional rights and are therefore subject to strict judicial scrutiny. The U. S. Supreme Court has ruled that “the 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 be upheld, a curfew on adults must be supported by a compelling state interest that is narrowly tailored to serve the curfew’s objective. General crime prevention is not a compelling interest.

That’s not to say an adult curfew is never defensible. In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to meet and public and travel the streets 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). In more recent memory, a California state court cited Zemel in a case that challenged an emergency curfew order issued by the city of Long Beach, California during the Rodney G. King riots. In re Juan C., 28 Cal. App. 4th 1093, 33 Cal. Rptr. 2d 919 (Cal. App. 1994). The court ruled that the dangerous riots that played out on TVs across the nation justified the curfew.

No similar situation exists in Clinton. It highly unlikely that the city officials could cite a satisfactory reason for so severely curtailing the fundamental rights of its citizens.

If you – or anyone you know – is charged with violating the Clinton, Louisiana curfew, give us call.