One of the first things that a new client charged with Unlawful Entry in Washington, D.C. often says to me is: I didn’t enter unlawfully, I was a paying customer! While that may be true, there is a lot more to the charge of Unlawful Entry that most people think. Washington, D.C. does not have a crime called “Trespassing.” Instead, crimes involving a person being on someone else’s property without permission are charged under the Unlawful Entry statute.

One of the most common ways to incur this charge, is to be in a place of business, and fail to leave when asked. And nine out of ten times that place is a bar or a club, and the person charged has, in the estimation of the management, been over-served.

The D.C. Unlawful Entry statute makes it illegal for someone who is otherwise lawfully in a private building to remain on the property after being asked to leave. So if you’re at a bar, and the bartender or bouncer asks you to leave, you may be guilty of Unlawful Entry if you refuse. It usually doesn’t matter why you’re being asked to leave, or whether you think it’s fair. Clients often don’t think of a bar as a private building, but if it’s not owned by the government, then it’s private. And just like if you are visiting a friend’s house, your invitation can be revoked at any time.

As I said above, most of these cases involve alcohol and lots of it. It is also not uncommon to see an assault charge along with the Unlawful Entry charge. Why? Because once you decide you’d rather stay where you are, bouncers often get involved. And a bad situation quickly gets worse.

If you’ve been charged with Unlawful Entry, your Washington, D.C. criminal defense lawyer will look at the facts of your case, and see if any defenses apply. One possible defense is referred to as “claim of right.” What that means, is that if you believe that you had the right to remain at the location you were asked to leave, you may not be guilty of the crime. So if a bouncer is trying to toss you out, and you think that you don’t have to leave before you’ve paid your bill, gotten your coat, or told your friends what’s happening, then you may have a legitimate defense.

Another possible defense may be that the person who is asking you to leave does not actually have the authority to do so. The bartender may think he or she has the power to end your night, but it might be the case that only the manager had that authority. If that’s the case, then you aren’t guilty of unlawful entry.

The approach that your D.C. Unlawful Entry lawyer will take to your case depends on the facts and circumstances. Like snowflakes, every case is different. If you have been arrested for Unlawful Entry in Washington, D.C., contact Gretchen Taylor Pousson Trial Attorney for a case evaluation.