The Legal Insider
In this issue:
How to Protect Against Halloween Pranks
It's not uncommon for teenagers (and some adults) to believe that Halloween gives them free reign to terrorize neighborhoods with rolls of toilet paper or boxes of plastic forks stuck menacingly upwards in grassy front yards. There are a few things you can do to prevent your home from becoming the next victim, most of which have to do with lighting.
- Stay home: A lot of people go out on Halloween, preferring to avoid hordes of candy-hungry trick-or-treaters. However, you are much less likely to become the victim of a prank if you are home and everyone knows it. Turn on lights throughout your home, and make sure your porch light is bright as can be. This will discourage pranksters, and also prevent well-meaning children from tripping on your property.
- Give the good stuff: Unless you're a dentist on a mission, you may want to avoid handing out things kids don't like. In exchange for good candy, they may refrain from hurling eggs at your windows.
- Install a motion sensor: Once the doorbell stops ringing and you want to call it a night, there may be a few remaining ornery older kids out and about. A motion sensor should help deter potential pranksters from assaulting your property.
- Park your car in the garage: Remove the urge pranksters may have to dish soap your windshield and vaseline your door handles.
Whatever you do, don't shoot. Pulling out a firearm on a prankster is a surefire way to land yourself in prison. If you see suspicious behavior, call the police before taking the law into your own hands. Sure, there may be burglars out and about, so always stay vigilant, but don't be a vigilante.
How to Decorate Safely for Halloween
October is finally here and Halloween enthusiasts who have been scheming their elaborate costumes over the past 11 months can rejoice. Costume party attendees, trick-or-treaters, and horror film buffs unite, it is time for all to unleash your inner pumpkin-spice addict and gather round for an evening of ghouls, goblins, and witchy goodness.
If you are feeling festive and planning on decorating for the big night, you'll want to keep a few tips in mind to prevent liability in case a jack-o-lantern prop goes awry:
- Avoid open flames: Instead of using candles which pose a serious fire risk, use LED lights or battery-operated candles. Pumpkins, fire, and flammable costumes are a bad mix.
- Watch for safety hazards: Make sure walkways are clear, obstacles are clearly marked, and be mindful of low-hanging mummies and skeletons.
- Remember the lighting: Ensure your front yard and entryway are well-lit, and walk your property to remove potential after-dark tripping hazards.
- Extension cords and electrical wires: Do not overload electrical outlets to avoid fires, secure wires to avoid tripping, and never nail or staple through any wiring.
- Choose decorations wisely: Avoid flammable decorations like crepe paper, cornstalks, and dried flowers. Keep decorations away from heat sources, and don't drape fabrics over light bulbs.
- Decorations shouldn't be excessively frightening: If your decorations would prompt a call to the police on any other day of the year, you may want to tame them down a tad.
There is nothing like a lawsuit to dampen the Halloween spirit. Use common sense when decorating and do your best to prevent mishaps. In case of an accident, make sure your homeowners insurance policy is up to speed for liability protection before the ghouls and goblins arrive.
The Truth and Myths Behind Poisoned Halloween Candy
We've all heard the frightening possibility of trick-or-treaters coming home with poisoned candies from strangers, causing parents to frantically search their candy bags before the kids can get a taste. This terrifying tale is just that, a tale.
This fear was instilled from a headline in 1974 of a boy dying from cyanide-laced Pixy Stix. However, they didn't come from a stranger but from the boy's own father, Ronald O'Bryan, who tried to kill both of his kids with cyanide after taking out an insurance policy on them. Though O'Bryan was executed in Texas in 1984, the notion of poisoned Halloween candy lives on.
This is not to say you shouldn't practice safe trick-or-treating principles with your kids on Halloween night. Stories of sharp objects in candy also circulate, so just be aware of what you and your kids are eating. The best rule of thumb is it's better to be safe than sorry. It's always a good idea to make sure candies are well-wrapped, and there are no signs of tampering. Don't allow children to eat fruit or anything else that isn't sealed. Be cognizant of who your kids are hanging out with, go with them when they are trick-or-treating, and go to houses with which you are familiar.
Urban legends tend to stick in the gossip chain for years, and while the idea of a psychopath attempting to murder young children with treats is certainly a cause for concern, it has no merit in history. So long as you take the proper precautions for safe trick-or-treating, the classic Halloween tradition of a free sugar high can live on.
Understanding Curfew Laws
Many towns and cities across the country have enacted curfew laws which prohibit minors from public spaces without being accompanied by an adult or guardian. For instance, in Middletown, NJ no person under age 18 will be allowed on any public property between the hours of 8:00 p.m and 6:00 a.m. on October 30th and 31st. Some may view curfew laws such as Middletown's as a little stiff, but the intention is to keep youth safe. Be sure to check your own local laws as each city can vary.
Curfew is typically aimed at teenagers, but for trick-or-treaters, this means they either need to be accompanied by their parents or guardians after the designated curfew time, or already be in their homes. For teens, if they are caught on foot or even driving, they could risk a ticket, community service, or hefty fines. Parents, you too may be held responsible if your child is out past curfew, so heed the warning as no one wants a ticket undermining their parental responsibility.
There are some logical exceptions (and again, check with your own municipality) that may not warrant the consequence of a curfew violation. For instance, if a teen is on her way to work at the local theater after the designated curfew hour, it's unlikely law enforcement will crack down. Other exceptions may include:
- Instructed to run an errand by an adult
- At a school or religious event
In the past, curfews have also been instilled upon adults for reasons such as ongoing civil disturbances, natural disasters, and emergencies (e.g., mass shootings). Some college towns have had past issues with Halloween mayhem, so if you live in one and plan on being out all night, make sure it's allowed before planning your evening escapades. Most importantly, no matter where you are on Halloween, have fun and be safe.