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California sex offenders chafe at Halloween restrictions


Some registered sex offenders in California say community ordinances preventing them from putting up Halloween decorations and lights are a violation of their rights to free speech under the United States Constitution. They are pressing city governments there to lift those bans, which local officials say are intended to protect children and have nothing to do with the First Amendment. In some locations, sex offenders are barred from decorating their homes or handing out treats, and must post signs reading, "No candy or treats will be handed out at this residence." This could be a law in search of a crime. In the city of Simi Valley for example, where such restrictions are enforced, police admit that none of the 119 registered sex offenders who live there have committed crimes involving children on Halloween, and in fact there is no record of any child sex crime on Halloween ever.

A group called California Reform Our Sex Offender Laws has taken up the cause. Simi Valley officials admit the ordinance was preemptive but they are just doing what other California cities have done. They claim that trick-or-treating offers "significant opportunities for sex offenders to victimize children." The state actually has a law known informally as "Operation Boo" that lets police roll up on sex offenders' homes to make sure they are inside and the lights are out.

The attorney for California Reform our Sex Offender Laws has filed suit on behalf of five sex offenders, asking the restrictions be overturned. She compares the sign requirement to the Nazis ordering Jews to wear yellow stars on their clothes, an analogy that does not sit well with many people, by the way. The laws' critics say the restrictions punish people who have already paid for their crimes by imposing additional penalties, and create fear that these individuals will do it again. In fact, there is no data that supports the notion that Halloween is some sort of trigger that will cause offenders to commit another crime.

Many states have some form of Halloween restrictions for sex offenders. Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas are among them. New York has its own version of "Operation Boo." Florida prohibits paroled sex offenders from dressing up or handing out candy. Failing to follow the rules come with a heavy penalty. In most states it's a felony that carries a three-year prison sentence.

Source: FindLaw, "Halloween sex offender laws," Oct. 2, 2012

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