Daytime Curfew Law Upheld

By Maria Elena Kennedy | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

Monrovia, Calif., ( - A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Wednesday upheld a daytime curfew ordinance after a family challenged the law because it interfered with the home-schooling of their children.

The plaintiffs said the law is being excessively enforced and that their two sons have been stopped 21 times by the town's police department.

Don and Rosemary Harrahill and their two sons, Jesse and Ben, had sued the city of Monrovia and were represented by Mike Farris, general counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association. Farris said he will appeal Judge Irving Feffer's decision.

"No one believes that this is the end of the matter. I think that the chances of us prevailing in the end are very good. I'm very confident that the courts will hold that local truancy laws are pre-empted by state law and that cities have no authority to regulate educational attendance."

Farris added that the city of Monrovia had changed its legal strategy in mid-stream. "The idea that this is a curfew was a shift in the city's strategy. They called it a truancy ordinance, time and time again. If you look at the law itself, it says you can't be in public when you're supposed to be in public school. When you read the entire ordinance, it's clear that it's unconstitutional," Farris said.

The Harrahills maintain the ordinance is unfair to their sons, who have been repeatedly stopped by police for breaking the daytime curfew, which makes it illegal for school-aged children to be on the streets of Monrovia while public schools are in session.

Mitchell Abbot, representing the city of Monrovia, argued that the suit should be dismissed, insisting the city had the right to enact such a curfew.

Following Feffer's summary judgment in the case, Abbot said, "The judge agreed with the city's position all the way down the line. He accepted the city's arguments, he rejected the plaintiff's arguments and we're very gratified. I think it was a sound ruling and I expect it to be upheld on appeal."

After failing to convince the Monrovia City Council to curb what they considered the police department's excessive enforcement of the daytime curfew, the Harrahills filed the lawsuit against the city in April 1997 on behalf of themselves and their two sons.

Also named in the lawsuit was the Monrovia police department and its chief, Joseph Santoro. Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit included a then 21-year-old student who was stopped by the Monrovia Police Department for being on the streets while the public schools were in session. After questioning the young woman, the police department held her until her mother was contacted and confirmed that the young woman had been out of high school for several years.

In the wake of a January 27th, 1999 ruling against the curfew by Los Angeles Superior Court judge Carolyn Kuhl, the Monrovia City Council decided to revamp the ordinance by explicitly outlining the exceptions when children could be legitimately out of school.

A California Court of Appeals, however, reversed Judge Kuhl's ruling and the case was remanded to the Los Angeles Superior Court and Judge Feffer.

While the city of Monrovia contends vigorous enforcement of a daytime curfew will curb juvenile crime, a study conducted by the San Francisco based Justice Policy Institute contradicts that argument.

In a study entitled "Monrovia, California: A Case Study in Curfew Failure," researchers noted that juvenile crime actually increased "in Monrovia ... by 53 percent during exactly the school months the curfew is most vigorously enforced."

Dan MacAllistair, Associate Director for the Justice Policy Institute, said the study "focused on whether or not curfews are an effective tool in preventing juvenile crime", and according to MacAllistair, "There is virtually no evidence proving that curfews reduce juvenile crime."

MacAllistair said cities would be better off spending their money on funding after-school programs rather than sending out the police. "Most juvenile crime occurs during the hours between 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m." he noted.

According to the Justice Policy Institute, there has been a sharp rise in the number of daytime curfews imposed throughout the nation.

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