Unlawful Entry in D.C.

Last updated:  May 31, 2020

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 is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and 180 days of imprisonment

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.

Recent case law interpreting the statute

In order to secure a conviction for unlawful entry, the government must prove 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.  

Who do I contact?

If you are looking for a criminal defense attorney with extensive experience dealing with this type of case in D.C., please contact Jamison Koehler at 202-549-2374 or jkoehler@koehlerlaw.net.

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.  Instructions on obtaining a copy of your PD-251 are provided here.

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

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