How old is too old to go trick-or-treating?
For people in Chesapeake, Virginia, the hard limit is 13-years-old. And that isn’t just a recommendation. Any 13-year-old caught celebrating Halloween in Chesapeake and its neighboring communities can face up to six months in jail.
Chesapeake’s trick-or-treating law
In Chesapeake, trick-or-treating is a crime. And not just for teenagers – even small children can see jail time if they don’t follow the city’s strangely specific rules.
Section 46-8 of the Chesapeake city code strictly prohibits anyone over the age of 12 from – as the law puts it – engaging “in the activity commonly known as ‘trick or treat’ or any activity of similar character of nature.”
Penalties are severe. Teens caught going door-to-door asking for candy are guaranteed a minimum fine of $25. But if the courts really want to throw the book at them, they can slap those kids with up to $100 in fines and sentence them to up to six months in prison.
Just being under thirteen doesn’t mean you’re safe, though. Even small children can children can faces charges if they’re caught trick-or-treating outside of the approved trick-or-treating hours of 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
If your eight-year-old is still going to door-to-door at 8:30 p.m. in Chesapeake, the law of the land, taken literally, says that you can get a $100 fine and up to 30 days in prison.
Other communities in Virginia share Chesapeake’s strange, strict laws against trick-or-treating. Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, James City County, York County, Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport all have laws and curfews of their own.
None are quite as severe as Chesapeake, the only city threatening kids with jail time. Still, in all those counties in Virginia, trick-or-treating can at least get you charged with a Class 4 misdemeanor.
The Halloween that made trick-or-treating a crime
The ban on trick-or-treating, according to The Virginian-Pilot, stems from a particularly disastrous Halloween in Portsmouth in 1967, when the fun of going door-to-door devolved into a chaotic mess of blood and explosives.
One boy was stabbed to death after trying to wrestle candy out of another boy’s hands. Another was killed when a teenager, as a twisted prank, threw fireworks into his candy bag.
All told, by the time the night was over, eleven children across the nation were dead.
That Halloween was so bloody and violent that, by the next year, Virginia papers were full of editorials calling for restrictions, with one declaring: “Halloween should not license a minority of hoodlums to commit mayhem.”
The law passed in Portsmouth and spread to the surrounding towns. 50 years later, it’s still in effect in at least nine communities.
Police in Chesapeake say that they aren’t actively looking for teenagers trick-or-treating. They say that they would only enforce the law if a teenager were actively destroying property or committing vandalism. And, indeed, there are no records of anyone in Chesapeake being charged under the law.
But not every community is that relaxed. In Virginia Beach, the law has been enforced multiple times; between 1988 and 2009, police charged six teenagers with overaged trick-or-treating.
No one, as of yet, has ever actually been sentenced to those six months in prison. The law, however, is still on the books.
More to the story
Dave Noriega talked to special guests Amy Donaldson and Andrew Hull on the Dave & Dujanovic show about Virginia’s strange Halloween laws. If you missed the show live, you can still catch what they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.
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