Unlawful Entry in Washington, D.C.

Unlawful Entry

Unlawful Entry, codified at DC Code 22-3302, is a misdemeanor charge in Washington, D.C.  It is most similar to the criminal offense of “trespassing.”

Unlawful Entry is committed by entering property against the will of “the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge thereof,” or refusing to leave the property when asked by that person.

If the property in question is private, the offense carries imprisonment for up to 180 days and/or a $1,000 fine.  If the property in question is public, the penalties are slightly higher – 6 months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.

Unlawful Entry of a Motor Vehicle

A similar but somewhat less common charge is Unlawful Entry of a Motor Vehicle under DC Code 22-1341 which makes it a misdemeanor offense to “enter or be inside” a motor vehicle without the permission of the owner or “person lawfully in charge” of the vehicle.  The statute defines entering as “to insert any part of one’s body into any part of the motor vehicle, including the passenger compartment, the trunk or cargo area, or the engine compartment.”

The penalties for this offense are half of those for unlawful entry of private property – up to 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Diversion and Defenses

For defendants with little or no criminal history facing unlawful entry charges, the government may allow them to participate in a special kind of diversion program called the “stet docket.”  Under this program, the defendant’s charge will be dismissed if he or she stays away from the location in question for at least six months and complies with certain other conditions.

Where diversion is not available, there are a number of potential defenses to examine in an unlawful entry case.  For example, many unlawful entry cases involved so-called “barring notices” – written demands that police or property owners issue to persons they do not want on their property.  If the barring notice is not sufficiently specific about where the recipient may or may not go, this can be raised as a defense in some cases.

Another common unlawful entry defense is “good faith.”  If a person enters a restricted area under a mistaken but good-faith belief that he or she has a right to be there, the person cannot be convicted of unlawful entry.

Finally, it may also not be clear who is “lawfully in charge of” a given place.  What if the person who ordered you to leave a given location had no right to do so?  Or, alternatively, what if you reasonably believed the person ordering you to leave had no right to do so?  These and other defenses should be thoroughly explored with defense counsel in any unlawful entry case.

The attorneys at our firm have helped clients facing unlawful entry charges achieve acquittals, dismissals and admissions to the stet docket.  Contact us if you would like to discuss your case.