Too old to trick-or-treat? Some towns can throw teens in jail, but laws not enforced

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Some jurisdictions in Illinois ban trick-or-treaters over the age of 12.

In 2008, in the city of Belleville in southern Illinois, the city council passed an ordinance that set the age limit for trick-or-treaters at 12 years old and under. The law is still on the list of active Belleville city ordinances – but no one pays much attention to it.

Under the ordinance, trick or treating by anyone 13 years of age or older is considered “Halloween solicitation.” Theoretically, violators can be fined up to $1,000 if they are found guilty of being too old to trick or treat. But no one has ever been cited. A woman who answered the phone at Belleville City Hall said Belleville loves Halloween.

“We don’t go around carding 13 year olds,” she said.

In Virginia and Maryland, a number of localities have ordinances with trick-or-treating age limits, but the local police are not out on Halloween trying to find violators.

In 1970, Chesapeake, Virginia, passed an ordinance against teenage trick-or-treaters, Heath Covey, director of public communications for the city, said. The law came about after some young people were caught throwing pumpkins in the street and doing some pushing and shoving.

Under the Chesapeake Code of Ordinances, it is a Class 4 misdemeanor for anyone over the age of 12 to go trick or treating on Halloween. A violator can be sentenced to jail for up to 6 months if they are found guilty of being too old to trick or treat. But the ordinance “has never been enforced,” Covey said.

“The last thing we want our officers doing on Halloween is handcuffing ghosts and goblins,” he said.

No one in Chesapeake or no one in one of the four neighboring cities that have similar Halloween age restriction laws has ever been arrested for being too old to trick or treat.

Like a lot of quaint old laws that are routinely ignored, the Chesapeake Halloween ordinance has stayed on the books for 50 years. In 2018, however, someone on social media made a post about it that went viral, getting the attention of Jimmy Kimmel, the BBC, and even a Ukrainian TV crew.

The city got a kick out of the notoriety but the city council did not bother to change the law. And Halloween in Chesapeake has not been affected.

“If a 16-year-old wants to take his 10-year-old brother, and they both go trick or treating, as long as they are not creating mischief or some kind of disturbance, the biggest problem the 16-year-old is going to have is who gets the best candy,” Covey said.

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