While Virginia's mask law has an exception for holiday costumes, many police departments are warning that since Halloween falls on a Tuesday, public events this weekend are not covered, and it is still illegal for anyone over the age of 16 to wear a mask in public.
Virginia has a number of pretty odd laws. For example, Virginians are only allowed to hunt raccoons on Sundays for the first two hours of the day (12 a.m. to 2 a.m.). I can't explain that.
However, Virginia's law banning masks in public is explainable. The law was originally passed to crack down on the Ku Klux Klan and their infamous white hoods. While the KKK still exists, they are not the ones who tend to be caught up in this law.
The Commonwealth of Virginia is one of just 15 states in the country with a mask law on the books. According to Virginia Code 18.2-422,
It shall be unlawful for any person over 16 years of age, with the intent to conceal his identity, wear any mask, hood, or other device, whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered, so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to be or appear in any public place, or upon any private property in this Commonwealth, without first having obtained from the owner or tenant thereof consent to do so in writing.”
Now, the law does allow for exemptions for holidays. However, Halloween falls on a Tuesday this year. While the law's exception would technically allow people over the age of 16 to wear masks on Tuesday, it does not apply to this weekend.
So, if we want to get technical, anyone over the age of 16 in Virginia who wears a mask in public this weekend, or on private property without getting the property owner's consent, could be guilty of violating the Commonwealth's mask law. And this isn't a slap on the wrist, either. Violations of Virginia's mask law technically constitute a Class 6 felony, which is punishable by one to five years in prison and/or a $2,500 fine.
Earlier this year, Virginia's mask law made national news with a man dressed as Heath Ledger's Joker from the movie "The Dark Knight." Jeremy Putman was walking through the town of Winchester, Virginia, carrying a sword, and wearing thick makeup. Since it is legal to carry a sword in Virginia, police charged Putman with violating the mask law. Even though he was not wearing a literal mask, the officers argued that his makeup was thick enough and constituted an attempt to "conceal his identity." Ultimately, the mask charges against Putman were dropped, however, it shows that even this obscure law can be enforced.
There was another case in 2015 where Marine veteran Seth Christman was arrested
in Fairfax County for wearing a Guy Fawkes mask while he was skateboarding. He was charged with a felony and took his case all the way to court. Ultimately, the jury decided to clear Christman of any wrongdoing, but only after hours of aggravation and thousands of dollars spent on his defense. If a modern case ever was to make it to the Appeals or Supreme Courts, Virginia's law would likely be struck down for unconstitutionally violating residents' first amendment right to free expression.
Will police enforce the mask law this weekend? Probably not. I'd be shocked if police just started arresting people in costume as soon as they walk out of a bar or party. However, Halloween is also known for its mischief. If police catch people in costume committing other serious crimes, it is very likely that we could see mask violations tacked onto the list of charges by arresting officers.
What do you think? Should Virginia's mask law just be abolished? Let us know in the comment section below!