Introducing Common Laws, a new general legal information column written local lawyers David and Lyn Batty. Some people may find it hard to believe that two lawyers could coexist in one marriage, but marital disagreements can sometimes be defused by a well-placed evidentiary objection. Lyn is a solo practitioner and a former law librarian. David finds safety in numbers and practices with a firm in Charlotte. Common Laws will appear on the second Monday of each month.
We decided to write Common Laws so we could have some fun exploring the confusing, quirky and entertaining legal system that keeps lawyers across the country gainfully employed. With Halloween right around the corner, we wanted to explore how local governments regulate fright night activities.
Many local ordinances define trick or treating as “solicitation,” and regulate the activity by setting time and age limits. For example the town of North Riverside, Ill., has dubbed Oct. 31, “Halloween Party Time,” but only for children and only before 7 p.m. Some party, right? Other locations limit Halloween activities by age – so all adults who like to wear costumes had better beware. For example, in South Hill, Va., if you are over age 12, masks, costumes or disguises are verboten, even in a private home.
Only a few cities and towns in North Carolina have adopted Halloween restrictions. Sanford’s municipal code is fairly typical: Town laws there prohibit anyone over age 12 from appearing in public “for the purpose of making ‘trick or treat’ visitations” and limit trick-or-treating to 6 to 9 p.m. on Halloween night. Woe is the parent who breaks that law by knowingly allowing children to violate the restrictions.
Many local ordinances regulating Halloween activity originated in the early 1970s. That is not a coincidence. Around that time, local news outlets began reporting stories of tainted Halloween candy and other dangers to trick-or-treaters. North Carolina passed laws in the early 1970s against distributing on Halloween any food that contains “any poisonous chemical or compound or any foreign substance such as … razor blades, pins and ground glass.” Frightening language, for sure, but the vast majority of the media reports related to tainted Halloween candy were hoaxes.
More recently, some towns and states have enacted curfews and bans that prohibit Halloween participation by registered sex-offenders. While there’s no data showing that children are at an increased risk from sex-offenders on Halloween night, these laws are gaining in popularity. They include mandates to post “No Candy at this Residence” signs at the homes of registered offenders.
Of course, some of the most noteworthy Halloween laws don’t deal with child safety at all. Many are simply downright goofy. As reported on the website Smosh.com, there are Halloween laws that require you to get a permit from the sheriff to wear a mask in public, laws that prohibit “pretending to be a clergyman” and even laws that impose a $1,000 fine for spraying silly string. In 2010, Livingston Parish in Louisiana mandated that trick-or-treating occur on Monday, Nov. 1, out of concern that some residents that might be offended by costumed children celebrating Halloween on a Sunday.
Cemeteries feature prominently in spooky Halloween tales, and also tend to be strictly regulated in local laws. Most towns ban any activity in cemeteries after sundown, but one of our favorite cemetery laws comes from Gastonia. Under the local code, all funerals “must be arranged so that the grave may be properly filled and all surplus ground cleaned away before 6 p.m.” You may wonder what this law has to do with Halloween. Although there may be valid safety concerns with leaving unfilled holes in the ground at night, we note that Gastonia has never had a problem with vampires. Denying vampires an open and inviting place to rest before sunrise must have something to do with that.
We look forward to discussing laws relating to other holidays on a semi-occasional basis. In the meantime, we will share legal concepts we think you will find interesting, informative or entertaining. If you have a legal question of general interest, please send us an email (email@example.com) and we might use it in an upcoming column.
David and Lyn Batty live in Davidson and as lawyers, they also want you to read this:
Disclaimer: We write this Common Laws column for informational purposes only. This column is not legal advice and it should not be relied on for making any decisions that may affect your rights. If you need legal advice regarding a specific situation you should consult a lawyer. No attorney-client relationship is created with any of our readers. Although we try to ensure that the information we provide is accurate, we disclaim any liability for inaccurate, incomplete or out-of-date information appearing in this column.