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2010 saw a keen interest in mandatory curfew laws, landing "curfew" on the list of top legal search terms on FindLaw.com. With curfew laws popping up across the country, it's important to understand the categories of curfew law and their exceptions.
Juvenile Curfew Laws
Most likely driving the search for information on curfews are juvenile curfew laws. Nearly every major city in the United States has a mandatory curfew for persons under the age of 18. Cities usually cite violence and safety as reasons to enact a curfew law, but whether it has any effect is up for debate.
Juveniles, can, however, "break" a local curfew law under a few exceptions. They may be out after hours if accompanied by an adult, instructed to run an errand by an adult, at a school or religious event, or going to and from work. Emergency situations will also be forgiven.
Business Curfew Laws
High crime, high traffic areas are often subject to business curfew laws. As a mandatory curfew law, it requires businesses in specific areas to close between certain hours--usually late at night. While pharmacies and bars are usually exempt, restaurants, liquor stores, and other places that attract loiterers must close.
The purpose of this kind of mandatory curfew law is safety. Cities are trying to prevent violence and theft; the fewer people around, the less likely it is crime will occur.
A mandatory curfew during a time of crisis--a natural disaster or civil unrest--is rare, but it does happen. A city or state will often require residents to remain indoors between dusk and dawn, using the darkness to their advantage. For instance, hurricane-hit areas often enact curfews to allow time for crews to clean and make repairs. And cities, such as Los Angeles during the riots in 1992, may institute a curfew to help contain violence. Medical emergencies are an obvious exception.
You may be wondering whether or not curfew laws are legal. At this point, it depends on your state. State and federal courts are split on the issue, and the Supreme Court has yet to consider it.