Nov 26 2007
02:48 pm

Let me not be understood as saying that there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise for the redress of which no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say that although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still, while they continue in force, for the sake of example they should be religiously observed.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

Law is order in liberty, and without order liberty is social chaos.
Archbishop Ireland

Fragile as reason is and limited as law is as the institutionalised medium of reason, that's all we have between us and the tyranny of mere will and the cruelty of unbridled, undisciplined feelings.
Felix Frankfurter (1882 - 1965)

It was the boast of Augustus that he found Rome of brick and left it of marble. But how much nobler will be the sovereign's boast when he shall have it to say that he found law... a sealed book and left it a living letter; found it the patrimony of the rich and left it the inheritance of the poor; found it the two-edged sword of craft and oppression and left it the staff of honesty and the shield of innocence.
Henry Brougham (1778 - 1868)

Ignorance of the law excuses no man: Not that all men know the law, but because 'tis an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to refute him.
John Selden (1584 - 1654)



I'm not sure what your purpose is but there are numerous refutations to most of these quotations, and in particular the "Ignorance is no excuse" meme.

We are all ignorant of the law, and being ignorant, can only obey those which we are familiar with. This is why we have traffic signs.

Think about it. A legislative body may pass a law setting a particular speed limit but unless a sign is posted, you would never know what the law said. Would you be guilty if you exceeded it? How about a curfew law, such as the obviously unconstitutional one in Rockwood? There are no signs and no one, including Judge Leffew, knew what the law said until one officer decided to start harrassing kids and writing tickets.

That law is still unconstitutional but try getting out of local court by pointing that out. Now I ask you, Where, in this case, does the ignorance lie?

My Purpose, WC...

Was to offer some comments about the law. Period. Sometimes discussion of laws, or thinking about them is a good thing. I thought that stimulating thought and discussion was one of the purposes of this forum. If this post violates the purposes of RoaneViews, please advise and I will remove this posting forthwith.

I think it is fairly accurate to say that there is no single isolated quote about anything, the law included, that cannot in some way be refuted, if refutation is the goal. So I'm not sure what the purpose of refutation is. Being capable of being refuted is not the same as being incapable of being worthwhile. But I certainly agree in that there is hardly any isolated sentence or quotation about anything that can stand perfectly without any risk of refutation to some degree or other.

Fortunately, regarding traffic laws that regulate speed, there are statutes that require posting and require knowledge of the law in most cases. In municipalities, I don't believe there has been a declaration of unconstitutionality of laws that say things like, "In XYZ City, the speed limit is X MPH unless otherwise posted." I think a speed ordinance that doesn't include an overall in-city speed limit and is not a posted speed limit doesn't really need be declared unconstitutional - I think a competent judge just needs to say "It can't be enforced because there's no notice of what the speed is." Or am I missing something?



What about the term "LEGALLY" drunk. Should it be "ILLEGALLY" drunk?


I've been told that it is illegal to be legally drunk. There...that clears that up.

Actually, Ray, It might be a good thing for municipalities to go through their code every 40 years or so and bring it up to date. Most of Rockwood's was done in 1970 and some of it just sits there waiting to cause problems. The curfew law, for instance.


A very interesting topic. But rather than write about it, I should practice it.

In case you are interested, the Code of Ordinances for Rockwood is online. I will try to include a link when I finally develop my website,


Frankly, I didn't know that it is unlawful to throw a snowball at a tree in Rockwood. Thanks for the link. Here's the curfew law:

11-604. Curfew for minors. It shall be unlawful for any minor, under the age of eighteen (18) years, to be abroad at night after 11:00 P.M. unless upon a legitimate errand or accompanied by a parent, guardian, or other adult person having lawful custody of such minor. (1970 Code, § 10-229)

Clearly unconstitutional on any one of several points. Judge Leffew said he gets to decide what errands are "legitimate", by the way.

WC - here I am - admitting up front "I don't get it!"

I figgered that'd get a good laugh or two! :-)

I must be still asleep and just now realized it, but... Which ordinance are you saying is clearly unconstitutional, and on what grounds?


Read the Rockwood Curfew law

There are fairly high standards for taking away a civil right from an entire class of people, in this case those under 18. This law meets none of those standards.

I watched the Rockwood Judge fine a kid for coming home from work after 11:00 pm. That was his only offense. I guess coming home is not a legitimate errand, in the Judge's eye.


I have not read the whole curfew ordinance. I'll go to the link Mark provided and do so. See if it makes any sense to this ignorant and deluded brain.

Are talking, perchance, about Rockwood attorney Bill Leffew? I'm afraid I don't know who all the Rockwood officials are.

Thanks for the information to work on, WC.


That is the whole curfew ordinance

And it is Judge Greg Leffew, Bill's son, whom I like a lot, and have had excellent legal work done by.

We just disagree on this one (and a few others) but that's the American way...Or at least it used to be.

More on Unconstitutional

Very interesting hunt your comments sent me on, WC. I was intrigued by your comment (There are fairly high standards for taking away a civil right from an entire class of people, in this case those under 18. This law meets none of those standards.) , to which which I initially was prepared to add my "Amen."

I did some thinking (always a dangerous thing) and I undertook some research. Found several things I had not expected, so I tender them for consideration...

From: (link...)
"Certain of the above rights are restricted, or "disabled", for minors, but the definition of who is a minor and the extent to which each of these rights are disabled for minors, is limited to the jurisdiction over which each government has general legislative authority, which for the U.S. government, is "federal ground" (see below). Minors are the only class of persons whose rights may be disabled without a need to justify the disablement as arising from the need to resolve a conflict with the rights of others, either through statute or due process. The disablement consists of the assignment of a power to supervise the exercise of the rights under the headings of "liberty" and "property" listed above to a guardian, by default the parents, who acts as agent of the State for the purpose of nurturing the minor. The disability is normally removed by statute providing for removal when a certain age, such as 18, or condition, such as marriage, is attained. The disabilities of minority can also be removed earlier by court order or, if statute allows, extended beyond the usual statutory expiration by court order in cases of incompetence. The right to vote is not included among the disabilities of minority, but is defined separately by law, so that removal of the disabilities of minority does not in itself affect having the right to vote."

From: (link...)
"Generally speaking, the Constitution applies equally to everyone, regardless of age, color, race, religion, or any other factor. However, minors are a special category of person, and in many cases, the rights of minors can be suppressed in ways that the rights of adults simply may not be."
"The most obvious reason for this is simply age. Or perhaps better stated, maturity. A four-year-old, or even a ten-year-old, cannot make, nor be expected to make, the same sorts of decisions that an adult can make. Where an adult might be perfectly free to wander the streets at night, a child seen wandering the streets at night would be taken into some sort of protective custody, even if against his will."

Some sage advice from the NJ Bar Association found at: (link...)
"The Supreme Courts of Washington, Iowa and Hawaii have all deemed curfews unconstitutional. In New Jersey, the debate over curfews will likely rage on until there is a definitive ruling by its Supreme Court. Until then, it is up to your individual township whether you need to be home by a certain time or not. Minors should contact their township police department to determine if their town has a curfew and if so, when it is, because ignorance of the law is not a defense to a violation."

From: (link...)
"U.S. district and appellate court decisions indicate that the critical issue in cases challenging curfew ordinances may be maintaining the intricate balance between the government's interest in protecting public safety and ensuring the mobility rights of youth. A recent case in Texas illustrates this problem. In May 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a case, Qutb v. Bartlett, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a Dallas, TX, curfew ordinance. The refusal to hear the case allowed the Fifth Circuit's decision to stand."
"Although empirical studies addressing the impact of juvenile curfew ordinances have not yet been undertaken, officials of several localities that recently adopted curfew legislation have self-reported success since the introduction of these initiatives into their communities. For example, 3 months after the enactment of the Dallas curfew ordinance, the Dallas Police Department found that juvenile victimization during curfew hours declined by 17.7 percent and juvenile arrests during curfew hours dropped by 14.6 percent, according to the recent OJJDP report.
New Orleans, which has enacted one of the strictest curfew ordinances in the country, also reports a significant decrease in juvenile crime since its curfew ordinance went into effect in May 1994. The dusk-to-dawn curfew, enacted in response to an escalating level of violent crime involving juveniles as both perpetrators and victims, was influential in decreasing the incidence of youth crime arrests by 27 percent the year after its adoption. In that same time period, armed robbery arrests decreased by 33 percent and auto theft arrests decreased by 42 percent."

From American Bar Assn at (link...) :
"The principal curfew cases are Bykofsky v. Borough of Middletown, 401 F. Supp. 1242 (M.D.Pa. 1975), aff'd without opinion, 535 F.2d 1245 (3d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 964 (1976) and Qutb v. Strauss, 11 F.3d 488 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied sub nom Qutb v. Bartlett, 114 S. Ct. 2134 (1994), both upholding ordinances, on the one hand, and Johnson v. City of Opelousas, 658 F.2d 1065 (5th Cir. 1981) and Hutchins v. District of Columbia, 942 F. Supp. 665 (D.D.C. 1996), both striking down enactments, on the other. Most of the legal attacks on these ordinances or statutes, as reflected in these cases, have been based on both procedural and substantive grounds under the First, Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. Professor Katherine Hunt Federle at Tulane Law School has done an excellent job of analyzing these cases and others in a recent law review survey article. (Children, Curfews, and the Constitution, 73 Washington University Law Quarterly 1315 (1995).) She finds that the legal attacks have been premised on the Equal Protection Clause, predicated on the violation of a fundamental right or that age is a suspect classification, on substantive due process principles, on the right to freedom of movement, on overbreadth or vagueness grounds, on the basis of the infringement of the rights to parental authority and familial authority, and on general Fourth Amendments grounds tied to the existence of a basis for probable cause dictated by youthful appearance standing alone. The case law is significantly split over the validity of the various enactments and the rationales for the decisions striking down such ordinances have varied."

So - bottom line, as I look more and more at this: It is not at all decided with any degree of finality whether or not curfew laws are, per se, unconstitutional. When the ultimate case is finally decided by The Supremes, it seems highly likely that there will not be a decision saying all curfew laws are one or the other. What appears more likely will be a decision saying that certain conditions and substance are necessary for a curfew law to be either constitutional or unconstitutional.

This is INTERESTING! Looking into it more. If I find more, will provide it.


PS: One thing I initially forgot to add was that it ain't unconstitutional (from the standpoint of enforcement, etc) until a competent court declares it such, and even then it could be up in the air depending on what the next higher court says, all the way up to SCOTUS.

I did not say that curfew

I did not say that curfew laws are unconstitutional, I said this one was. The Supremes have held that if the community can demonstrate that a particular class of citizen poses a risk to the community (teenaged gangs being the one class that has been so demonstated so far) then a curfew law that has certain exceptions may be valid.

Then there's the list of exceptions, two of which are that first ammendment rights supercede curfew law and interstate travel can not be limited. The two exceptions listed by the Rockwood law are neither of these.

Off-topic: Curfew law memories

My town had a curfew of 10 PM for minors. The only juvenile crime problem I heard of in the five years I lived there was that once a boy spray-painted some graffiti on the grade school. (I heard he paid for his inappropriate exercise of free speech by being sent off to reform school.)

We were told that the curfew was the reason we had no problems. Personally I thought it was because we were basically good, busy kids in a tiny, isolated, rural town (read: fishbowl).

What the curfew meant for me was not protection from the non-existent juvenile gangs, nor the timely curtailment of my own never-realized life of crime. :)

What it did mean was never getting to finish the second movie of the double feature presently weekly by our one movie theater. :(

With the curfew, my parents' refusal to allow me to go to movies that were not reviewed favorably in Boy's Life magazine, and TV in that mountainous area being limited at the time to three channels of mostly snow, I saw precious few movies until I left home.

I resented that curfew every time I missed the end of the second movie.

-- OneTahiti

Hot Dawg, OneT!

Knock ya out of getting the value for your money - when else could you get the two for the price of one in entertainment?!

Brings back memories. I think the curfew was (is?) 10PM where I grew up. They used to blow a whistle or something in the middle of town as a reminder.


Wasn't really trying to disprove you, just looking at subject...

There are those people, though, who that say curfew laws in general are unconstitutional.

I didn't find (I wasn't looking specifically for it, and I quit looking after about an hour) a citation where The Supremes said curfew laws were flat unconstitutional unless they met certain specific exceptions. The things that I found indicated that there had not been a definitive decision made about curfews by SCOTUS, although several state and federal appellate courts had decided on various specific cases. Is there a case where SCOTUS decided on curfews definitively that spells out specific circumstances that would make curfews kosher, but absent which all curfews are unconstitutional? Do you have either an internet citation or a citation of the case I could look at? Thanks!


Read all you want

...several courts have found curfew statutes that lacked
a First Amendment exception to be facially invalid...

But here's a summary

Cool - I'll read those.

Thanks for the info. I was particularly interested in the Qutb case.

I'll check 'em out.


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