implications of common Halloween pranks
Halloween mischief is almost as old as the holiday itself. All Hallows' Eve is notorious for pranks, as is so-called “mischief night” the evening prior. Juveniles carry out the majority of Halloween shenanigans in much the same way that has been done for decades past, to the extent that some of the tomfoolery is entirely expected.
This begs the question “Are Halloween pranks harmless fun that's annoying, but tolerable, or are there actually legal implications for those who carry out even the most common of hoaxes such that a juvenile can even land in a detention center - or worse?”
Attorney Jeff Isaac sheds light on the issue, noting, “While some Halloween pranks are entirely predictable and sometimes regarded as a child's ‘right of passage,' most do break a law of some kind. If pursued, pranksters can find themselves in a great deal of hot waterand not just with their parents. What started out as thrill-seeking can ultimately spin way out of control and become a life-altering, or ending, event, as was the case in Indianapolis when a 15-year old boy hanging out with a group of teens egging cars was murdered by the man driving the egged vehicle.”
While specific laws and policies vary from state to state, below Isaac correlates common acts of Halloween mischief with a civil or criminal law at risk of being broken - some misdemeanor and some serious felonies:
Stealing candy from another person, or a location, is classified as “robbery.” Use a real or fake weapon in the commission of this robbery, and the stakes get even greater with possible felony-level re-classification as a “violent” crime for which penalties get gravely serious. So, trick-or-treaters should wield that pirate's sword judiciously
Throwing eggs or any other item at cars, homes or other personal property, smashing mailboxes, putting shaving cream on cars or garage doors can all cause permanent damage, and are considered more than just a prank by police. Retribution can include community service or repaying monetary damages that can add up to thousands of dollars
--“Toilet papering” trees or other personal property, smashing pumpkins and other seemingly innocuous pranks are also unlawful, and can result in fines to cover property damages and other forms of civil law punishment
While some kids get a sick thrill out of threatening other children out and about on Halloween, they can, in fact, be brought up on assault charges. Assault comes into play for the willful attempt or threat to unlawfully touch or hurt another person - whether or not the threat was actually carried out.
--Many states have a formal policy prohibiting known sex offenders of any age from participating in a holiday event involving children under 18 years of age, such as distributing candy or other items to children on Halloween. Some states even mandate that sex offenders who face supervision under Megan's Law be confined to their homes on Halloween and are ordered to not answer the door when trick-or-treaters come calling.
Isaac concludes, “Parents would be wise to have frank dialogue about this issue with their tween through teen-age children to assure they fully understand that almost every naughty act can have a consequence - and what those consequences can be in no uncertain terms.”