Friday, September 25, 2009

SJC strikes down Lowell youth curfew

SJC strikes down Lowell youth curfew - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe

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The case is COMMONWEALTH vs. WESTON W., a juvenile (and a companion case), SJC-10299, decided September 25, 2009.

Justice Cordy's decision noted:

We reject the rationale used by some courts to justify a lower standard of review, that the rights of minors are not coextensive with or are weaker than those afforded adults. Minors possess fully formed constitutional rights. See Planned Parenthood of Cent. Mo. v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52, 74 (1976) ( "Constitutional rights do not mature and come into being magically only when one attains the state-defined age of majority"). However, in applying the strict scrutiny test to their infringement, we recognize that the government has a countervailing compelling interest in "protect[ing] children from actual or potential harm," Blixt v. Blixt, 437 Mass. 649, 656 (2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1189 (2003), an interest that often justifies restrictions that could not be sustained when applied to the fundamental rights of adults. See Bellotti v. Baird, supra at 634 (constitutional principles should be applied with "flexibility" to minors because minors are vulnerable and unable to make decisions in "informed, mature manner"); Matter of Gail, 417 Mass. 321, 326-327 (1994), quoting Custody of a Minor, 375 Mass. 733, 754 (1978) (Commonwealth has "long-standing interest in protecting the welfare of children living within its borders"). In other words, the analysis "should consider whether the state's interests may be more compelling but not whether the rights involved are less fundamental." Nunez, supra at 945, citing H.L. v. Matheson, 450 U.S. 398, 441 n. 32 (1981) (Marshall, J., dissenting). See also Qutb, supra at 492 n. 6.

And then concluded:

Applying the strict scrutiny standard, the ordinance's criminal provision unconstitutionally infringes on the minors' rights to freedom of movement. Status offenses such as being abroad at night may not be "bootstrapped" into criminal delinquency and commitment to DYS custody. See Commonwealth v. Florence F., supra at 528-529 n. 8. In response to the first reported question [Does the Lowell Youth Protection Curfew for Minors violate the equal protection rights of the Juveniles under either the United States Constitution or the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights by subjecting the Juveniles to a restriction upon their rights to movement and travel that persons seventeen and older do not have to endure?], the answer is, "Yes," with regard to criminal penalties resulting from violations of the ordinance. The curfew itself and its civil enforcement mechanism, however, represent, as of the date of the proceedings below, a permissible, narrowly tailored response to Lowell's compelling interest in preventing crime by, and against, minors. Because the ordinance contains a severability clause, those provisions remain in force.