Teenagers are NOT being locked up for trick-or-treating in Hampton Roads

This has to be one of the more insidious things to hit my news feeds lately: outrage over ordinances that exist in Hampton Roads that set a legal age limit at 13 years-old for trick-or-treating on Halloween. And what’s all the more infuriating is EVERY place discussing these laws implying these laws are a recent incarnation.

They aren’t.

The laws have been around since the late 1960s. And they were enacted after there were several crimes that occurred on Halloween night by teenagers who weren’t simply begging for candy.

I grew up in Virginia Beach. If I remember correctly, the last year I went trick-or-treating was 6th grade, 11 years old. It was the same with most of my neighbors as well. In general kids stop going out trick-or-treating once they reach middle school, and it’s generally rare that kids continue doing so at that point. And it is generally accepted among parents that middle school is the appropriate cut-off.

But in all the time the laws have been in place in Hampton Roads – again, it’s been almost 50 years these laws have existed – how many have actually been arrested just for violating that law? It’s so few we might as well say none. Residents aren’t turning in teenagers who trick-or-treat, and most kids stop going out on beggar’s night before they reach the age cut-off.

And the number of teens actually out trick-or-treating is so low the police generally ignore them unless problems arise. In which case they’ll intervene. This is similar to the laws regarding lemonade stands in which police and the city generally ignore the fact they exist, in violation of standing laws and ordinances, unless someone complains or other concerns come up.

That’s why you’ve probably not seen this story picked up by the mainstream media. I’ve not seen one mainstream media outlet actually discuss this. Because a simple fact check would reveal the laws are long-standing and not recent developments. And virtually no one in the affected cities has actually called for their repeal. Since virtually no one has been arrested just for violating those laws, and very few people become subject to them.

So why do these laws stipulate jail time and fines for teens actually charged with violating the law? For the same reason most petty offenses also stipulate jail time: in case there are accompanying charges that warrant a greater detention. Police have discretion over whether to actually arrest teens who are caught – and that’s so rare an occurrence we can say it virtually never happens – and the Courts have discretion over how to sentence any teens who are convicted or plead guilty.

This whole backlash about these laws ignores the fact they have been around for 50 years, and the residents of those cities don’t care these laws exist. Beyond that, it ignores the fact the law rarely is enforced, because it very, very rarely needs to be enforced.

It’s making a volcano out of an ant hill, and then flipping its lid like Mount St. Helens did in 1980. Which seems to be par for the course when it comes to the Internet.