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? There is no statewide General Statute specifically directed at sex offenders and 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 some sex offenders from being in places “where minors frequently congregate,” but I doubt an annual parking lot trunk-or-treat or other similar gathering is frequent enough to be covered, unless it happens to be on the grounds of a school, recreation park, or other place prohibited under the law. I do not think any portion of that law generally prevents a covered registrant from trick-or-treating with his or her children or handing out candy at his or her residence.
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 probably 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 special 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. There may local ordinances in some places that impose additional restrictions. 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 a while ago, adulterated candy, but rather being hit by a car. So be careful out there.