IS IT TRESPASSING IF YOU GO THROUGH A DOOR THAT SAYS “EMPLOYEES ONLY”?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
City of Wichita v. Bannon, 209 P.3d 207 (Kan. Ct. App. 2009).
This case addresses the following issue:
When a business owner distinguishes public areas and private areas, is an individual guilty of criminal trespass when he or she enters the private area?
This case explored the issue of whether an individual was guilty of criminal trespass after he entered an area in a business reserved for “dealers only.” In exploring this issue, the court held that a business owner had the right to distinguish public areas from private areas, and when a person knowingly and willfully disregarded the distinction, it was proper to find the individual guilty of criminal trespass. Id. at 213.
In this case, the defendant was at an auction facility for licensed automobile dealers to buy and sell used cars. Id. at 209. While at the auction facility, the defendant attempted to enter an area marked “dealers only.” Id. A uniformed officer was near the area and told the defendant that if he entered the restricted area he would be arrested. Id. Nonetheless, the defendant made several attempts and eventually entered the restricted area where he was arrested by the officer. Id. As a result of the arrest, the defendant was charged with criminal trespass. At trial court, the defendant was found guilty of criminal trespass and he appealed. Id.
On appeal, the defendant argued that since he was permitted entry onto the grounds of the auction facility, he could not be prosecuted for criminal trespass when he entered the portion of the property that was reserved exclusively for automobile dealers. Id. at 212. Further, the defendant maintained his argument even though the off-limit area was clearly marked and the defendant was personally and repeatedly told not to enter. Id.
In addressing the defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals of Kansas noted that it had been suggested that a case of criminal trespass would have required that (1) the security guard directed the defendant off the entire premises with instructions not to return, and (2) the defendant then reentered the property against the order. Id. at 213. According to the court, this was an unreasonable all-or-nothing construction of the criminal trespass law. Id. Additionally, under this proposed construction, the court noted that if an absent-minded customer accidentally wandered into a portion of a retail store where customers were not allowed, the store owner could keep that customer out of the restricted area only be ejecting the customer from the store with instructions never to return. Id. In the court’s view, a business owner had the right to distinguish public areas from private areas, and when a person knowingly and willfully disregarded the distinction, it was proper to find the individual guilty of criminal trespass. Id.
In this case, not only was there a sign at the entrance of the area reading “dealers only,” the officer repeatedly told the defendant not to enter the area. Id. Therefore, the court held that the defendant was rightfully found guilty of criminal trespass by the trial court. Id.