Question: Can you explain to me about the curfew laws. What aged children are required to be in by a curfew and what times do they have to be in? Also, does it mean that they must be on their way by a certain time, or already home? Can my child get a ticket for being out past curfew even if he is on his way home?
Answer: Curfews are designed primarily to protect children. Children who are not out alone or even with friends during late night hours are less likely to become a victim of a crime. Curfews not only keep children off the streets for their own good, but are also designed to keep children from getting into things that they shouldn’t. The State of Texas has a powerful interest in its youngest residents. While a person is still in minority, under the age of 18, the State may enact laws that the legislature believes protect children.
Children may not feel a curfew is necessary and may even consistently violate curfew laws. The problem is multi-faceted because of a misconception about “when” a curfew is effective. Each city passes curfew ordinances that comply with State law. In Dalhart, children under the age of 17 years have a curfew that is effective between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday nights and at 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. A curfew begins at the designated time, but it does not mean that the child’s obligation to get off of the streets begins at that time. It means that their obligation to be off of the streets must be accomplished at the onset of curfew.
A violation of a curfew is if any minor knowingly remains, walks, runs, stands, drives, or rides about in or upon any public place during the curfew hours. Many cities also enact curfews during school hours during the school year, which means that a child may not be on the streets during those hours, generally between the hours between 9:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Many children and parents grapple over the issue of curfew. Parents who allow leniency may discover it can be very costly. If a child is out past the onset of curfew and is stopped by a law enforcement officer, the child is issued a citation that is a Class C misdemeanor. The Texas Penal Code defines each degree of crimes and the range of punishment associated with each degree. Penal Code, Title 3, Punishments, Chapter 12, Punishments, Subchapter A. General Provisions, Section 12.23 states that a person who is found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor may not receive any jail time or other infringement upon his liberty, but a fine “shall” be assessed for up to but not more than $500. That is an expensive price to pay for pushing the limits of curfew.
What parents and children generally want to know is “when do I absolutely ‘have’ to be in my home?” The answer is, at or before the onset of curfew. A child who leaves a friend’s house or a social gathering at the onset of curfew has already violated the law. Defenses to the rule exist. A child may be with a parent or guardian past curfew, so long as the parent or guardian is supervising the child. A child may also hold a job and work after the onset of curfew, so long as when the child leaves his job he goes straight home. Stopping off at a friend’s house, fast-food restaurant or grocery store is not an extension of the exception for children who hold jobs. Also, a child who is married has no legal obligation to abide by curfew.
A law enforcement officer has discretion to excuse a violation, for instance, if a child is out after the onset of curfew due to an emergency such as a car breaking down, flat tire, need to travel to a hospital and the like. Keep in mind that law enforcement officers have heard every creative “excuse” for violating curfew and are likely to require proof of the validity of the excuse. Also, officers may excuse a curfew violation that occurs shortly after the onset of curfew, but are less lenient during the wee hours of the morning.
This article is meant for educational purposes only and not as a substitute for sound legal advice. Direct questions to Ask the Lawyer to firstname.lastname@example.org.