Sex offenders challenge Mo. law banning them from Halloween activities
By Robert Patrick
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
St. Louis — Four Missouri sex offenders are challenging a new state law that confines them to their darkened homes on Halloween and restricts them from contact with children that night.
Their lawyer says the law leaves them uncertain of whether they can even costume their own children or grandchildren.
The suit they filed in federal court in St. Louis claims the provisions are too vague to enforce and improperly add punishment to sentences already served.
A spokesman for Attorney General Jay Nixon vowed to defend the statute.
The provision, part of a broader bill signed into law this summer, says convicted sex offenders must "avoid all Halloween-related contact with children" by staying inside their homes from 5 to 10:30 p.m. "unless there is just cause to leave," such as a job or emergency.
They also must keep outside lights off and post a sign that says "no candy or treats at this residence."
A violation is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.
With the law, Missouri joined Illinois and at least a handful of other states that either monitor sex offenders during Halloween or bar them from participating.
The suit, filed Friday on the offenders' behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, complains that the measure fails to provide enough guidance to police to prevent arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement.
The ACLU legal director, Tony Rothert, said offenders can't be sure of their status even with their own children or grandchildren. He said the terms "Halloween-related contact" and "avoid" and "just cause" are not clear.
The law could even endanger sex offenders, Rothert said, by requiring them to post signs that could make them targets.
"There's already pranks on Halloween," Rothert said. "If someone wants to harass you and cause you problems that night, you can't even turn your lights on."
The two sentences about Halloween were inserted at the request of Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, in a bill generally tightening restrictions on sex offenders. Lager said Tuesday that a constituent suggested it.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, said following the law is simple: "If they have children or grandchildren, then the one spouse takes them out, or you go to a party, or you go to something neutral. But we don't want predators opening their homes on Halloween."
Up until now, Loudon added, "There's nothing that prevents a brazen predator from trying to hand out candy to kids on Halloween."
Loudon also said that he does not consider the law to be additional punishment.
"I think life goes on without Halloween in your own home," he said. "There are lots of other opportunities for people. I think it's kind of silly that people are raising the constitutional right of people to hand out candy on Halloween."
The plaintiffs' names are not used in the suit. But the suit and the sex offender registry show that three have local ties: a 48-year-old Maryland Heights grandmother convicted of two counts of statutory sodomy in 2003 involving a 15-year-old boy; a Ballwin man convicted of statutory rape and statutory sodomy and now living with his stepchildren; and a Cape Girardeau, Mo., woman who admitted having sex with an 11-year-old boy in the mid-1990s in Lake Saint Louis.
The Post-Dispatch deduced the names of two using their descriptions in the suit. Neither responded to calls seeking comment.
Rothert said lawyers were still trying to serve all the defendants with the suit, including Gov. Matt Blunt, Nixon and police chiefs and prosecutors in the areas where the offenders live.
Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson said, "We're not surprised that they're now suing the governor to make it easier to victimize children."