Halloween is upon us once again, so that means the media is flooding viewers with sweeps week stories advertising sex offense registry maps and registry compliance checks on Halloween. (Patch dot com has already flooded news feeds with “Sex Offender Safety Maps” all month long.) Many of these stories are not inaccurate both regarding the danger registered persons actually pose and about just how many states have laws specifically banning registered citizens from participating in Halloween celebrations. Compounding the issue, media reports have confused local ordinances with state laws.
STATE STATUTES CONTAINING HALLOWEEN RESTRICTIONS
Using the website casetext.com to search the current state legal codes, I found only five states have official laws in their state legal codes regulating registrant participation in Halloween activities—Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, and Missouri. Of these five states, only Louisiana and Missouri apply the restrictions to all registered persons. Arkansas and Illinois applies restrictions to both those on supervised release, parolees/ probationers, and those convicted of sexual offenses involving anyone under age 18. Florida’s state law applies only to those on probation or parole.
The statutes of the five states with Halloween restrictions are listed below:
Arkansas – (Enacted 24 July 2019) Ark. Code § 5-14-135 prohibits all registrants classified as Tier 3 or 4 from distributing candy or wearing masks where a minor is present UNLESS every minor at the event is a relative of the registrant, or the costumes/ candy distribution is related to legitimate employment.
Florida – (Enacted 2010) Fla. Stat. § 947.1405 and Fla. Stat. § 948.30 both contain, among other conditions of supervision, “A prohibition on distributing candy or other items to children on Halloween; wearing a Santa Claus costume, or other costume to appeal to children, on or preceding Christmas; wearing an Easter Bunny costume, or other costume to appeal to children, on or preceding Easter; entertaining at children’s parties; or wearing a clown costume; without prior approval from the court.”
Illinois – Enacted in 2005, 730 ILCS 5/3-3-7 (a)(16), 730 ILCS 5/5-6-3.1 (c) (18), and 730 ILCS 5/5-6-3 (a) (10) all have the same statement that “if convicted of a sex offense as defined in subsection (a-5) of Section 3-1-2 of this Code, unless the offender is a parent or guardian of the person under 18 years of age present in the home and no non-familial minors are present, not participate in a holiday event involving children under 18 years of age, such as distributing candy or other items to children on Halloween, wearing a Santa Claus costume on or preceding Christmas, being employed as a department store Santa Claus, or wearing an Easter Bunny costume on or preceding Easter;” Under 720 ILCS 5/11-9.3 (c-2), enacted in 2013, “It is unlawful for a child sex offender to participate in a holiday event involving children under 18 years of age, including but not limited to distributing candy or other items to children on Halloween, wearing a Santa Claus costume on or preceding Christmas, being employed as a department store Santa Claus, or wearing an Easter Bunny costume on or preceding Easter. For the purposes of this subsection, child sex offender has the meaning as defined in this Section, but does not include as a sex offense under paragraph (2) of subsection (d) of this Section, the offense under subsection (c) of Section 11-1.50 of this Code. This subsection does not apply to a child sex offender who is a parent or guardian of children under 18 years of age that are present in the home and other non-familial minors are not present.” Thus, it seems Halloween restrictions apply to all parolees and all registrants with offenses against anyone under age 18.
Louisiana — (Both were enacted in 2008) Under RS §313.1, no gifts to any child during a holiday in which gifts or candy is given. Under RS 14:313(E), RCs are prohibited from wearing masks, hoods or disguise of any kind with the intent to cover one’s identity.
Missouri — (Enacted 28 Aug. 2008) Under CSR 859.426, all registrants in the state are banned from contact with children on Halloween; they must remain at home except for good cause (work, emergencies), post a sign stating “No Candy at this residence,” and leave outdoor lights off from 5pm-10:30pm.
Note: West Virginia tried unsuccessfully to pass Halloween Restrictions in 2019 (HB 2502).
HALLOWEEN RESTRICTIONS CREATED BY STATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE AGENCIES
A number of Probation/ Parole departments in lacking statutory Halloween restriction laws enforce various Halloween restrictions for those under their supervision. Some of these organizations have taken to naming their actions with amusing names to mask the serious constitutional depravations their operations
California: The California Department of Corrections’ (CDCR) Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) conducts “Operation Boo”, a series of compliance checks, a curfew between 5pm and 10pm, lights out and cannot answer the door for anyone except law enforcement.
Colorado: The Colorado Department of Correction, Division of Adult Parole states, “All offenders being supervised under sex offender directives are prohibited from participating in Halloween activities. This includes trick-or-treating or answering the door for trick-or-treaters. No decorations are to be displayed at the residence that would attract trick-or-treaters. These parolees are directed to turn off their outside lights between the hours of 4 p.m. October 31 and 8 a.m. November 1.
Georgia: The Georgia Department of Community Supervision (DCS) has reported conducting annual compliance checks around Halloween, and some counties have made news for posting signs in yards of registrants. In the past, it has been reported by state agencies that RCs on paper were restricted in other Halloween activities.
Idaho: Media outlets in 2017 quoted a state DOC official that stated there was a policy in place that required registrants to keep porch lights off and not give out candy on Halloween.
Indiana: Indiana Department of Correction’s Parole Services Division has conducted “Operation Safe Halloween” since 2007. RCs on supervised release will be required to attend a mandatory meeting, turn in safety plans for the evening, or remain at home and not pass out candy.
Maryland: A PO may require registrants on supervision to display signs stating “No Candy At This Residence”
Nevada: “Operation Scarecrow” was most recently reported by the NV Dept. of Public Safety, Div. of Probation and Parole in 2017; it stated, “The goal of Operation Scarecrow was to ensure that the offenders under the supervision of the Division, whose crimes involved child victims, have a “no contact with children” condition and/or are a Tier III sex offender, were not having contact with children. These high risk sex offenders were provided with specific instructions to avoid any unauthorized contact with children and were prohibited from participation in Halloween-related festivities involving or potentially involving children. This includes a restriction that they cannot attend parties or pass out Halloween treats.”
New York: the NY DOCCS has “Operation Halloween: Zero Tolerance that makes the following provisions– “Halloween conditions require that sex offenders remain indoors at home on Halloween, not wear Halloween costumes, not open their doors to trick-or-treaters, and not have Halloween candy in their possession.”
Ohio: Numerous local media outlets reported the state has a “No Candy” policy for those on supervision, and many sheriff’s offices plan on conducting compliance checks around Halloween. However, I have found nothing that indicates any statewide policy other than reports from media outlets.
South Carolina: The state supervision department has issued the following: Curfew: 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. statewide on Halloween day Thursday, Oct. 31. Note: This does not apply to all registered sex offenders, many of whom are no longer on probation or parole and therefore not under the jurisdiction of SCDPPPS. No lights on outside their houses; no candy distribution; no participating in Halloween parties or carnivals. They must stay in their homes and can’t go into the street.
Tennessee: TDOC conducts “Operation Blackout” targeting parolees to prevent them from participation in Halloween activities.
Texas: The Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice imposes a curfew, lights off, and no decorations from 5pm to 5am Halloween night for those with child-contact restrictions. (Apparently this is a discretionary rule)
Virginia: According to the VA State Police website, “If the convicted sex offender is on supervision – which means restrictions have been placed on them as they relate to probation/parole and not state law – then they may not be permitted to participate in trick-or-treat activities (i.e. porch lights must be turned off; not permitted to open the door to trick-or-treaters, etc.). This restriction only applies if that offender’s conditions of probation/parole prohibit contact with children. If the convicted sex offender is not on supervision, then they are entitled to participate in trick-or-treat and other Halloween activities. This does apply to convicted sex offenders featured on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry. The only exceptions relate to Code of Virginia 18.2-370.5, which restricts an offender’s access to school property.”
Wisconsin: DOC conducts compliance checks for parolees and prohibits them from taking part in Halloween activities. In addition, the state registry site added this disclaimer: Halloween Message: Registered sex offenders under Active Community Supervision by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections are prohibited from participating in Halloween activities. If you believe a registered sex offender, who is under Active Community Supervision according to this Web site, is participating in Halloween activities you can report the information to the SAFE tip phone hotline … which is answered Monday through Friday between 7:45 AM and 4:30 PM. Registered sex offenders having Terminated status are not on state supervision and are therefore not subject to this restriction.”
A handful of Halloween restrictions may be limited to cities and counties, and not all of the local ordinances will make headlines. For example, I received an email from a registrant living in Tuscaloosa, AL who was concerned because he received a letter from the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office requiring him to attend a mandatory meeting from 6pm to 9pm on Halloween night. This letter states the meeting would be held at the Tuscaloosa Co. Sheriff’s Office Hangar to discuss “Information” to discuss their “rights” and ‘responsibilities under the SORNA laws.”
Currently, the Sheriff of Butts County is engaged in a lawsuit over efforts to post “No Trick or Treating” signs in the yards of county registrants. A federal hearing was held on October 24, 2019 on the issue, with an emergency ruling expected before Halloween.
In State of Missouri v. Charles A. Raynor, SC90164 (Jan. 12, 2010), Halloween restrictions were recognized as punishment and could not be applied to those convicted before the law took effect.
I also believe that Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705 (1977) could apply to the act of placing signs on the property because SCOTUS ruled the government cannot compel citizens to carry the government’s message that is contrary to the citizen’s personal beliefs. In the case of the Butts Co. GA Sheriff, he is trying to force registrants to place signs in their yards under threat of arrest.
Because these Halloween laws can easily be proven to be a form of punishment, ex post facto arguments and arguments the US Constitution prohibits Bills of Attainder (A legislative act that singles out an individual or group for punishment without a trial. The Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 9, paragraph 3) are the most likely paths to challenging such laws in courts.
NO JUSTIFICATION FOR HALLOWEEN RESTRICTIONS
Despite the claim by controversial victim industry spokesperson Wendy Murphy that “Halloween is like Christmas for sex offenders,” there is still no evidence that Halloween poses any unique threat for sexual abuse. The 2009 study by Mark Chaffin, Jill Levenson, Elizabeth Letourneau and Paul Stern, “How safe are trick-or-treaters? An analysis on sex crime rates on Halloween”, found no increase of sex crime rates on Halloween. The only story the media can use to try to justify Halloween restriction laws was the murder of Wisconsin trick-or-treater Lisa French in 1973, but the killer had no prior sex offense arrest at the time of the murder, so even if the registry had existed in Wisconsin back then, it would not have helped Lisa French anyways.
As we all should know by now, most sex crimes occur at home by someone known to the victim; most sex crime arrests are of those with no prior record. Despite falling out of favor by victim advocates as being outdated, “stranger danger” continues to inspire useless public policy like blanket Halloween restrictions for registered persons.
The good news is most states lack any formal types of Halloween restrictions even if you are “on paper,” but the bad news is other laws may already exists that could prevent you from participating in certain Halloween activities. Also, a number of law enforcement agents are diverting resources towards conducting compliance sweeps around Halloween. Unfortunately, it is possible despite the best efforts of me and fellow SOSEN members who helped provide the info for this list, there may be some laws we missed. This list will continue to be updated as new info is shared.
One current development involves a lawsuit against the Butts County (Georgia) Sheriff’s Office over the use of yard signs. There may be an emergency injunction decision sometime this week.
Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com