Judge rules Anchorage curfew unconstitutional

Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A state judge has declared Anchorage's curfew law for teenagers unconstitutional.

Wednesday's ruling by Superior Court Judge Rene Gonzalez in Anchorage appeared to be an unambiguous victory for several parents and their children who had sued the city for violating their basic rights by imposing the curfew law.

It follows a decision eight months ago by Judge Karen Hunt, who found the ordinance, designed to keep minors off the streets late at night passed constitutional muster. Hunt's ruling is now on appeal in the state Supreme Court.

The Anchorage curfew law, similar to more than 150 such laws around the country, was passed by the Assembly after several years in which the rate of juvenile crime rose sharply.

The ordinance went into effect in 1996, requiring those 17 and younger to be indoors between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. weekdays from September to May, and between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on all other days. A citation carries a fine of up to $300.

About 5,000 minors have been cited under the law.

The first of the two Superior Court cases was filed two years ago by David Treacy. In January 1999, Treacy, then a 17-year-old student, was a passenger in a car stopped by a police officer when the driver made an apparent illegal U-turn. The officer cited Treacy for violating curfew.

While the citation was being appealed to Superior Court, Treacy and his parents joined a mother, five other minors and the Alaska Civil Liberties Union as plaintiffs in the second lawsuit challenging the curfew, filed in June 1999.

On July 10, Hunt ruled against Treacy in the first case, finding the law constitutional.

The cases are associated, said attorney Hugh Fleischer, who is representing those suing the city in both cases.

''They're legally identical and very close in terms of the facts involved,'' he said. A decision by a Superior Court judge is not binding on another Superior Court judge, who may use his or her own discretion, said Fleischer. If the city does file a Supreme Court appeal, the cases are likely to be consolidated, he said.

Gonzalez found no fault with the city's decision to regulate the activities of young people, but he said the city went overboard in the demands it put on parents.

For instance, the ordinance allows few exceptions for children to attend nonschool activities their parents might sanction and requires parents to give detailed written permission for their children to be out during curfew.

The judge said the Anchorage ordinance puts more of a burden on parents and their children than a Texas ordinance, upheld by a federal appeals court, on which the Anchorage law was based.

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