Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween and the Law of Masks

Several states have statutes that prohibit the wearing of masks for nefarious purposes, like California:
California Penal Code Section 185
or Michigan:
Michigan Criminal Laws seciont 750.396
(93 days?)

But one state has a very broad, comprehensive law that makes masking a crime, regardless of the lack of any specific criminal intent. That state? Louisiana:
Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:313
So, merely hiding your identity is a crime. But, after noting that the penalty for violating this statute is imprisonment for up to three years, the statute spells out the logical exceptions such as Halloween, circuses, minstrel troupes, and, of course, Mardi Gras.

Only one other state has an anti-masking law that is almost as broad, and which has a similar set of exceptions, albeit without specifying Mardi Gras, which never really caught on in Oklahoma. Here’s the main provision of the Oklahoma statute and the text of La. R.S. 14:313 that lays out the exceptions:

Too similar for coincidence, right? Most definitely. In fact, both laws were passed within six months of each other, back in 1924: Oklahoma’s in January (OK. Laws 1923-24, c. 2, p. 2, § 1, enacted January 28, 1924) and Louisiana’s in June (Acts of La. 1924, No. 3, §§ 1 to 4, enacted June 12, 1924). So was Louisiana’s law modeled on Oklahoma’s? Possible. Or were they were both drafted off of a common antecedent, possibly some recommended anti-KKK legislation, that being a logical source of such a broad prohibition against masking. Further research is required.

Incidentally, La. R.S. 14:313 was amended in 2008 (Acts. of La. No. 400 § 1). It now provides an exception to the exception to the prohibition against wearing masks. The exception for wearing masks on Halloween, Mardi Gras, in circuses, etc., shall not apply to:
Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:313(e)
Never thought about wearing a mask for Christmas or Easter! Happy Halloween! Be safe, and watch out for those people NOT wearing masks on Monday!

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