Court Grounds San Diego Teen Curfew Law

Officials scramble to curb teenage wasteland

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    LONDON - NOVEMBER 03: A couple of shoppers enjoy a cup of coffee in one of the many cafes inside the Westfield shopping centre, London on November 3, 2008. The recently opened Westfield shopping centre is Europe's largest mall located in a city. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

    Kids rarely think their curfews are fair -- and in the case of the one imposed by the city of San Diego in 1997, they now have heavy legal backing.

    A state appeals court has ruled that San Diego's 10 p.m. curfew, as written, unconstitutionally restricts minors' right to travel and take part in "safe activities."

    Police, prosecutors and city officials are scrambling to figure out how to meet the court's legal tests while keeping the under-18 crowd from getting out of hand and turning late night into a teenage wasteland.

    San Diego high school students interviewed in the wake of the ruling shared their curfew horror stories, urging that city officials push the curfew back a bit -- at least to 11 p.m., if not midnight.

    "Like, my friend was getting brownie mix, and they accused her of getting high, and they took her in and stuff, and it's not fair," said a Torrey Pines High student who asked not to be identified. "Her parents had to come pick her up, and it's on her record."

    In July 1997, hundreds of teenagers gathered in protest for nights on end at Mission Beach -- also marching downtown with MTV crews in tow -- after the City Council imposed a curfew to replace one struck down by a federal appellate court.

    The measure had exemptions for being out past 10, such as coming home from work, school, church or activities sponsored by adults or civic groups.

    But a three-justice panel of the San Diego-based 4th District State Court of Appeal recently found that law to be too restrictive.

    "We conclude that, although a more narrowly tailored curfew ordinance is within the legislative prerogative, the present ordinance sweeps too broadly," Justice Alex McDonald wrote.

    Other high school students, on the condition of anonymity, offered these recollections.:

    "I was out at 10:06, and my parent's couldn't come get me, so they handcuffed me and I had to go to the station, " said a Canyon Crest Academy student.  "And I have a court date on the 25th."

    "I dropped my phone under my car seat one time at 10:08, and a policeman thought I was selling drugs or something," said a Torrey Pines High student.  "So he came over and arrested me. Put me in handcuffs."

    Parents interviewed on the subject said a curfew helps them ride herd on their kids and expressed hope that city officials come up with a replacement that will withstand legal scrutiny.

    "I think they have to write it in such a way that it's very detailed and lets everybody know exactly what you can and cannot do," said Chuck Ounjian, the father of two teenage sons. "I'm all for a curfew. I don't know about 10 o'clock. I think 11 o'clock would be a good curfew."

    The city attorney's office expects to recommend a new ordinance to the City Council in two weeks, but until it takes effect -- usually a six-week process -- San Diego police are in a gray area.

    In the meantime, the state's top appellate lawyer in San Diego said his office won't ask the Supreme Court to enforce the 10 p.m. curfew.