Unlawful Entry in D.C.

It is against the law in Washington, D.C. to enter or to remain on property against the will of the lawful occupant/owner. This is the criminal offense of unlawful entry.

Below is everything you need to know about unlawful entry in the District of Columbia, including  answers to the following frequently asked questions:

What is unlawful entry in D.C.?
What are the elements of the offense?
What are the penalties for conviction?
Will I go to jail?
Are there diversion programs for first-time offenders?
How will my case be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?
Can I expunge or seal a criminal record for unlawful entry?
What are my potential defenses?
Will I need a lawyer if arrested/charged for unlawful entry in D.C.?
How do I find out more about the allegations in my case?

To speak with an affordable lawyer with extensive experience dealing with this offense, please contact D.C. unlawful entry lawyer Jamison Koehler at 202-549-2374 or jkoehler@koehlerlaw.net.  

What is unlawful entry in D.C.?

Unlawful entry is similar to what is commonly known as trespass.  Unlike burglary, which requires entry into a building or structure with intent to commit a crime, unlawful entry involves mere presence on property without authorization or consent.  As such, it is a far less serious offense.

What are the elements of the offense?  

In order to secure a conviction for unlawful entry in D.C., the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant entered or attempted to enter a private dwelling, public building, or other property or remained on such property without lawful authority and against the will of the lawful occupant.  “Private dwelling” is defined as a privately owned house, apartment, condo or any other building used as living quarters.  D.C. Criminal Code 22-3302.

What are the penalties for a conviction?

Unlawful entry into a privately-owned building is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or $1,000 fine.  When the property in question is a public building, the maximum penalty is 6 months in jail.  In that case, the defendant is entitled to a jury trial.  See Broome v. United States, __ A.3d __ (D.C. 2020).  

Will I go to jail?

It is extremely unlikely that anyone but the most hardened criminal would ever serve any jail time after convicted of this offense.  A far more likely sentence would be a period of probation, either supervised or unsupervised.  

Are there diversion programs for first-time offenders?

Most people charged with unlawful entry in D.C. — particularly first time offenders — should be eligible for what is called the “stet docket.”  According to this arrangement, the government puts the charges on hold for a period of time — usually six months.  If the defendant can stay out of trouble during that time period, the government will simply dismiss the charges.  Another alternative to trial would be for the defendant to enter into a “deferred prosecution agreement” (DPA).  The standard DPA involves 32 hours of community over a four-month period.  Again, the government will dismiss the charges after the conditions of this agreement have been satisfied.

How will my case be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?

D.C. Superior Court is now closed for most matters as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Arraignments for unlawful entry and other misdemeanor cases have now been pushed back beyond November 9, 2020.  Given the tremendous backlog of cases that has resulted from the shutdown, all parties will have an interest in resolving as many cases as possible.  This means that the government may be more amenable to outcomes more favorable to the defense.  

Can I expunge or seal a criminal record for unlawful entry?

There are two different ways to expunge or seal a criminal arrest record for unlawful entry.   A motion to seal on the grounds of actual innocence can be filed immediately.  See D.C. Code § 16-802.  Alternatively, you can wait for two years after the case has been dismissed to file a motion to seal on the grounds that sealing the arrest record would be in the interests of justice.  See D.C. Code § 16-803.  You need to wait for eight years in order to file a motion to seal a conviction for unlawful entry.  

What are my potential defenses?

In order to secure a conviction for unlawful entry, the government must prove, among other things, that the underlying barring order was valid.  This was the holding of the D.C. Court of Appeals in Winston v. United States, 106 A.3d 1087 (D.C. 2015).  The defendant in Winston was found on D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) property after receiving a barring notice.  There was also no question that the defendant was aware of the prohibition.  However, because the government did not prove he was not the guest of a resident at the time the order was issued, his conviction was overturned.  

The Court found in Foster v. United States, 218 A.3d 1142 (D.C. 2019) that residents at DCHA properties are “authorized persons” who cannot be barred from accessing areas covered by their leases.   The Court reversed the conviction for unlawful entry in Wicks v. United States, 2020 WL 2071978, after finding that the evidence was insufficient to establish (1) that the sidewalk outside the Washington Nationals stadium was private property and (2) that the defendant knew or should have known that his presence there was against the will of the Washington Nationals.  

Most recently, the D.C. Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in Odumn v. United States, __ A.3d __ (D.C. 2020) after finding that a landlord may not prohibit a tenant from inviting people onto the property for lawful purposes.  

In other words, there are many ways to challenge an unlawful entry charge in the District.  

Will I need a lawyer if arrested/charged for unlawful entry in D.C.?

Although you have the absolute right to defend yourself, you should hire a lawyer.  This is because of both the complexity and the potential consequences of a criminal case.  If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one to represent you.  

How do I find out more about the allegations in my case?

Although your lawyer will be given a copy of the full police report and other pieces of “discovery” at your initial court appearance, you can obtain a copy of an abbreviated police report — the PD-251 — in advance of that hearing by contacting the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).  Instructions on obtaining a copy of your PD-251 are provided here.

Alternatively, you can request a copy of the incident report by emailing mpd.public-docs@dc.gov.  Make sure you include the criminal complaint number (CCN) in your email.  You can find this number on the top right of your citation. 

Last update:  October 24, 2020.


Do you need legal assistance with an Unlawful Entry charge in Washington, D.C.? Contact Jamison Koehler today.

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