A growing number of states has enacted laws restricting the activities of sex offenders on Halloween, ranging from "no passing out candy" to "no driving after dark," among other provisions. 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.
Below is a summary of Halloween sex offender laws, including examples of state laws, controversy surrounding these laws, and more.
Halloween Sex Offender 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 10 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:
About 10 states have passed "No Candy" laws that restrict registered sex offenders from passing out candy on Halloween, including Missouri. 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 Halloween Sex Offender Laws
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 their 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 don't increase on Halloween.
Some courts 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.
Have Questions About Halloween Sex Offender Laws? Contact an Attorney
Regardless of the underlying offense, those labeled as "sex offenders" often must comply with a variety of laws for the rest of their lives. These may even include laws restricting one's participation in Halloween or other activities involving children. If you have specific questions about sex offender laws in your state, you should get in touch with a skilled criminal defense attorney in your area.