Is It Illegal to Wear a Mask on Halloween?

Leaves are changing, the air is getting cooler (at least some days), and Christmas trees are beginning to appear in department stores everywhere. These signs can only mean one thing: Halloween is on its way.

Dogs wearing Halloween Masks in October

That’s a good thing, especially for those who love to dress up. Whether you plan to be silly, clever, or scary, there is a certain element of freedom in dressing up one night a year and being someone that you aren’t.

But is it really okay to wear a Halloween mask in public? We have received emails from cautious individuals wondering if they need to change their costume plans. Interestingly, because masks and disguises have historically been used to intimidate others, there are laws against wearing such costumes.

Mask Laws in North Carolina

According to North Carolina State Law, it is illegal for anyone over the age of 16 (legal adult) to wear a mask or hood over your face so as to conceal the identity of the person wearing the mask.

§ 14-12.7. Wearing of masks, hoods, etc., on public ways. No person or persons at least 16 years of age shall, while wearing any mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, enter, be or appear upon any lane, walkway, alley, street, road, highway or other public way in this State. (1953, c. 1193, s. 6; 1983, c. 175, ss. 1, 10; c. 720, s. 4.)

North Carolina General Statutes § 14-12.7 applies to public streets, sidewalks, public property (such as a park or building). This ban even extends to disguising a person’s voice! Moreover, violating this ban on masks and disguises will result in a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

There is also a ban on approaching private houses:

§ 14-12.9. Entry, etc., upon premises of another while wearing mask, hood or other disguise. No person or persons at least 16 years of age shall, while wearing a mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, demand entrance or admission, enter or come upon or into, or be upon or in the premises, enclosure or house of any other person in any municipality or county of this State. (1953, c. 1193, s. 8; 1983, c. 175, ss. 2, 10; c. 720, s. 4.)

Halloween Masks and North Carolina Law

However, there are certain exceptions to the ban on disguises. A person under the age of 16 is not subject to this law. Meetings or demonstrations on private property are also exempt if the person or persons seeking to wear disguises obtain written permission from the owner or occupier of the property, which must “be recorded in the office of the register of deeds of the county in which said property is located.” Also, masks in theatrical productions or for protective purposes are further exempt. Finally, and perhaps most pertinently, North Carolina General Statute § 14-12.11 makes an exemption for any person wearing a traditional holiday costume in season.

Because Halloween would fit into the “traditional holiday costumes in season” exception, you may feel free to take advantage of the one day that allows a loophole big enough for everyone to fit into. So, have fun and be safe in your Halloween mask this year.

Motorcycle Helmets and Particle mask vs. North Carolina Law

Q: We recently had a question on our website from one of our many motorcycle enthusiasts asking if NCGS 14-12.7 applies to motorcycle masks.

The Statute reads:

  • 14-12.7.  Wearing of masks, hoods, etc., on public ways.

A: No person or persons at least 16 years of age shall, while wearing any mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, enter, be or appear upon any lane, walkway, alley, street, road, highway or other public way in this State. (from 1953)

It would appear historically that this statute was passed to prevent the ku klux klan from intimidating people.  It does not appear to be geared at motorcycle riders’ face gear.  In more than 30 years of practicing criminal law in the state, I have never seen a case charged nor prosecuted.   If the State were to charge someone for wearing motorcycle face protection I would strongly recommend that the case be appealed.  However, after 30 years of practice, I truly believe that every prosecutor’s office has too much common sense and too many cases already to waste their resources on prosecuting this type of charge if it were truly being worn for motorcycling purposes.

If you walk into a bank with a mask on, I could see the State proceeding because of the stir you would create and the possible public hazard.  Just like if you are at a campsite and point at the fire and say “Fire.” You would not create a problem, but if you yell it in a crowded theater you could create a real hazard.

If you are wearing motorcycle protective face gear out on the highway I would strongly encourage you to continue, but if you are planning on walking into a bank with that same face-covering on, I would strongly encourage you not to.  While many times our government does not use common sense in deciding what to prosecute and what not to, I do encourage our readers to use common sense.

NCGS § 14-12.7 is one of many poorly written laws that are still on the books.  Use your common sense and judgment.