Local sex offenders concerned about new Halloween law

Thursday, October 30, 2008 | 5:09 p.m. CDT; updated 5:19 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 30, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Boone County Sheriff's Department has received 15 or more inquiries from local sex offenders worried about violating a new Missouri law governing their behavior on Halloween, a detective with the department said this week.

Many were concerned about Halloween-related activities with their own children or grandchildren. Others were nervous about getting in trouble for the actions of other people in their household, such as giving candy to trick-or-treaters.

Detective Andrea Luntsford's advice: "Just use common sense."

Luntsford the offender registration coordinator for the Sheriff's Department, said the department will not have any special unit assigned to monitor sex offenders on Friday, nor will deputies be checking door-to-door to make sure offenders are following the rules. Instead, she said, the department will address complaints as they arise.

Capt. Zim Schwartze, of the Columbia Police Department, said the department would not be actively enforcing the law either but would respond to complaints.

The law, which went into effect in June, states that sex offenders must turn off the outside lights on their houses and post a sign saying, "No candy or treats at this residence," to deter trick-or-treaters. It also says offenders cannot leave their homes from 5 to 10:30 p.m. on Halloween, unless it is for a "just cause," such as work or an emergency. The final, and most controversial, rule is that offenders must avoid "Halloween-related contact" with children.

"They didn't write the law to be very enforceable," Luntsford said.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Missouri officials on behalf of four Missouri sex offenders who thought the law was too vague and that it punished offenders for crimes committed before the law was enacted, violating ex post facto clauses in the U.S. and Missouri constitutions.

On Monday,  Judge Carol E. Jackson, of U.S. District Court in St. Louis, agreed. She said the law was too vague with regard to "Halloween-related contact," since many of the offenders have their own children or grandchildren. She also said that the exact reasons an offender can leave his or her home on Halloween night needed to be clearer.  Jackson upheld the other parts of the law requiring signage and turning off outside lights.

The attorney general's office has said it will appeal the decision.

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