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Betancourt v. Town of West New York

March 23, 2001

MILAGROS BETANCOURT, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND HER MINOR CHILD, TAISHA MERCED; ROSA BLANCO, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND HER MINOR CHILD, JENNIFER BLANCO, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
TOWN OF WEST NEW YORK, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, General Equity, Hudson County, C-6-99.

Before Judges Stern, A. A. Rodríguez and Fall.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rodriguez, A. A., J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted: November 14, 2000

We affirm the judgment of the Chancery Division holding that the Town of West New York's (WNY) juvenile curfew ordinance No. 2074 (WNY Ordinance), enacted pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:48-2.52, is unconstitutional. We concur with Judge Martin L. Greenberg's observation that this "holding shall not be construed as invalidating the Statute or condemning all juvenile curfews."

The facts are not contested. In 1992 the Legislature enacted N.J.S.A. 40:48-2.52, which authorized municipalities to:

enact an ordinance making it unlawful for a juvenile of any age under 18 years within the discretion of the municipality to be on any public street or in a public place between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. unless accompanied by the juvenile's parent or guardian or unless engaged in, or traveling to or from, a business or occupation which the laws of this State authorize a juvenile to perform. Such an ordinance may also make it unlawful for any parent or guardian to allow an unaccompanied juvenile to be on any public street or in any public place during those hours.

The statute mandates that curfew ordinances include "exceptions permitting juveniles to engage in errands involving medical emergencies and to attend extracurricular school activities, and other cultural, educational and social events, sponsored by religious or community-based organizations after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m." N.J.S.A. 40:48-2.52(d).

The following legislative findings supported the enactment of the statute:

The Legislature finds and declares that children who are left unsupervised during the overnight hours may be exposed to the most detrimental influences in society; that the allure of the rampant drug counter-culture, the potential for involvement in criminal activity, and other potential threats to the physical and mental health and welfare of children justify governmental action in furtherance of the protection of one of the most fragile and easily influenced segments of our society.

The Legislature further finds and declares that it is in the best interest of society to encourage family unity; to encourage the family unit to provide for the care, protection, and wholesome mental and physical development of children; to encourage the supervision of children by their parents and guardians and to encourage communication between them.

The Legislature further finds and declares that because of the peculiar vulnerability of children, their inability to make critical decisions in an informed, mature manner, and the importance of the parental role in child rearing, it is appropriate to authorize municipalities to enact ordinances to protect children from the dangers of the streets and to encourage the deepening of familial relationships. [N.J.S.A. 40:48-2.52, Assembly Judiciary, Law and Public Safety Committee Statement.]

The following year and pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:48-2.52, WNY adopted Ordinance No. 2074 (July 21, 1993), which provides in part:

It shall be unlawful for juveniles to be in any public place between the hours of 10:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. This ...


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