Supreme Judicial Court (September 25, 2009)

The Declaration of Rights protects a fundamental right of free movement. Therefore, the "strict scrutiny" standard applies to the review of a curfew ordinance, and the criminal provisions of that ordinance are too broad to be constitutional.

Several juvenile defendants were arrested on different dates in Lowell for violating the city's "Youth Protection Curfew for Minors" ordinance. The curfew ordinance has both criminal and civil enforcement provisions. The defendants filed motions to dismiss the complaints, and a Juvenile Court judge reported questions of law to the Appeals Court. The SJC granted the defendants' application for direct review. The following two questions were reported:

"1. 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?

2. What is the appropriate standard of review in considering an
equal protection challenge to a juvenile curfew ordinance in this
Commonwealth?"

The SJC declared for the first time that the Declaration of Rights includes a fundamental right to free movement, and thus "strict scrutiny" applies in reviewing the ordinance. The Commonwealth must demonstrate that the ordinance is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest and it is the least restrictive means of accomplishing its objective. Since the defendants conceded that the government has a compelling interest in protecting minors and preventing crime, the SJC reviewed only whether the ordinance is narrowly tailored.

The Court found that the curfew is narrowly tailored to achieve the legitimate goals of the ordinance. However, the Commonwealth failed to demonstrate that the use of criminal penalties (as opposed to civil enforcement) is the least restrictive means to accomplishing its legitimate objective. Finding that the criminal prosecution of a juvenile is an "extraordinary and unnecessary response to what is essentially a status offense," the Court held that the criminal provisions of the ordinance unconstitutionally infringe on the right to free movement. The Court found that the civil enforcement provisions of the curfew ordinance are less restrictive and survive constitutional scrutiny.