Halloween is a big deal at my house (if you’re wondering, we’ll have two little foxes, an American Indian, and Davy Crockett; I’ll put on my vintage Sandy Koufax jersey if pressured). We’re apparently not alone in that regard. CNN reports that even with a small downturn this year, Americans will spend over $7 billion on costumes, candy, and decorations—including over $300 million on costumes for pets.
Unfortunately, each Halloween also seems to bring a wave of news stories related to sex offenders. There apparently isn’t evidence to back up the concern, but some jurisdictions have laws prohibiting registered offenders from participating in Halloween activities. In Missouri, for example, all registrants were required to remain indoors between 5:00 and 10:30 p.m. on October 31, to leave their outdoor lights off, and to post a sign that said “No candy or treats at this residence.” Mo. Ann. Stat. § 589.426. The Missouri Supreme Court deemed that law unconstitutional as applied to an offender on the registry for an offense committed before its enactment. F.R. v. St. Charles County Sheriff’s Dept., 301 S.W.3d 56 (Mo. 2010) (en banc).
Do we have any such laws in North Carolina? No, there’s nothing in the General Statutes specifically directed at Halloween. Nevertheless, some of our more generalized restrictions on registrants might limit some Halloween activities. The most likely candidate, I think, is G.S. 14-208.18(a)(3), which limits many (but not all, as discussed here) sex offenders from being on certain premises where minors gather for “regularly scheduled educational, recreational, or social programs.” That law arguably prohibits covered registrants from attending any sort of annual Halloween festival or “trunk-or-treat” type gathering, to the extent that those events may be framed as a “regularly schedule recreational programs.” It’s less clear to me, though, that the same law would prevent a covered registrant from handing out candy at his or her own home. Recall, by way of background, that that law has already been deemed unconstitutionally vague as applied to a registrant who visited a public park. State v. Daniels, __ N.C. App. __, 741 S.E.2d 354 (2012) (discussed here).
Another statute that comes to mind is G.S. 14-208.17(b), which prohibits any person from conducting any activity at a residence where that person accepts a minor into his or her care or custody from another knowing that a registrant lives there. That law might prohibit a registrant from hosting a Halloween party where kids are dropped off at the house, but garden variety trick-or-treaters never come into the “care or custody” of anyone at the residence.
A different analysis might apply to a registrant who is on probation, parole, or post-release supervision. A supervised registrant may be subject to a condition of supervision limiting contact with minors that is more restrictive than the criminal provisions described above. Note, however, that the “standard” sex offender probation conditions set out in G.S. 15A-1343(b2) prohibit only residing with minor children. Mere visitation by a trick-or-treater would not violate that condition. See State v. Crowder, 208 N.C. App. 723 (2010) (noting the distinction between visitation and residence). Absent a more restrictive ad hoc condition, I don’t know of any basis for preventing an offender from handing out candy, requiring him or her to keep the porch lights off, or requiring the posting of a sign stating that the residence should be avoided.
I have heard about some other approaches to sex offender management on Halloween. Some sheriffs’ offices use the holiday as an opportunity to conduct additional address verifications on registrants. That is permissible under G.S. 14-208.9A(b). Some local probation offices require sex offender probationers to report in to the office on Halloween evening. That’s probably fine under the regular condition of probation that requires an offender “report as directed by [the] probation officer at reasonable times and places and in a reasonable manner,” G.S. 15A-1343(b)(3), but the visit might cease to be “reasonable” if it required the offender to stay for the entire evening. Some offices apparently provide refreshments, so maybe offenders stay voluntarily.
I’d be interested to hear about any other local practices. Parents and guardians can obviously take matters into their own hands by searching the registry to determine if there are any houses they would like to skip. Ultimately, remember that the biggest risk to children on Halloween is not sex offenders or, as Jeff discussed last year, adulterated candy, but rather being hit by a car. So be careful out there. And have fun!