Halloween Sex Offender Laws
There are a growing number of states that have enacted laws restricting the activities of sex offenders on Halloween. The type of restrictions imposed on sex offenders during Halloween hours generally range from "no passing out candy" to "no driving after dark", among other things. While the laws are primarily meant to protect children from potential threats by former sex offenders and child predators on Halloween, critics believe these Halloween restriction laws infringe on an individual's fundamental rights -- at least on one "scary" day of the year.
Halloween Restriction or "No Candy" Laws -- What are They?
State laws that restrict the activities of known sex offenders are a relatively new innovation. Following earlier laws targeting sex offenders -- such as Megan's Law and other residency restriction laws -- at least ten states and city municipalities have enacted statutes imposing restrictions on the activities of sex offenders on Halloween. The laws seem to fall into one of two main categories: (1) specific restrictions on registered sex offenders, and (2) restrictions on paroled sex offenders, or those on conditional release programs.
States including Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas, for example, have passed "No Candy" laws that restrict registered sex offenders from passing out candy on Halloween. In many cases, these states require registered sex offenders to post signs in their yards that read: "No candy at this residence", or risk getting a knock on the door by local police investigators. Other states, including Florida, restrict paroled sex offenders from distributing candy and wearing costumes on Halloween night.
In addition, a California law, known as "Operation Boo", allows officials to conduct nighttime checks on the evening of Halloween to make sure some registered sex offenders are insider their homes with the lights out. Similarly, a New York law known as "Halloween: Zero Tolerance" allows state investigators to make unannounced home visits, curfew checks, and phone calls to enforce the laws.
Some other state laws prohibit sex offenders from wearing costumes or masks, visiting corn mazes and haunted houses, being on the streets during peak trick or treating times, and from leaving their home during specific evening hours (except for work or in emergency situations).
In most states, the penalty for "passing out candy", or violating some other act specifically prohibited in the law, might include a felony charge punishable by up to three years in prison.
Purpose of the Law
The purpose of the "No Candy" laws are meant to keep children safe during a time where children are arguably more vulnerable to potential threats by sex offenders and other child predators. However, critics of the "No Candy" laws argue that the laws restrict the fundamental rights of previously convicted sex offenders because they limit "how parents may interact with their own children within the confines of their own homes" (for example, if a sex offender has children of his own).
The controversies surrounding "No Candy" laws stem from the idea that sex offenders who have already been punished for their crime are being unfairly targeted and subject to additional penalties. Also, critics say that the laws create a fear that registered sexual offenders will re-offend -- a fear that is not based on any empirical data.
According to a 2009 study by Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, children are no more prone to threats by sexual predators on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Other law enforcement statistics also show that the rate of sexual crimes against children do not increase on Halloween.
Some courts, like the Missouri Supreme Court, have even addressed the constitutionality of "No Candy" laws and have found that some laws as applied "retrospectively" (for example, to sex offenders who registered as such before the law took effect) are unconstitutional.
Despite the fears and controversies surrounding Halloween and sex offenders, laws restricting the rights of sex offenders on Halloween carry a criminal penalty. Registered or paroled sex offenders must follow the rules set forth by their state or local municipality, as it applies to their situation. Parents or guardians who wish to learn more about sex offender laws in their state should contact their local police agency, or visit FindLaw's Crime Victim Resources center for more information.