18 U.S.C. § 1752 - Trespassing on a Restricted Building or Grounds
The federal government has various laws regarding illegal trespassing on federal property. But perhaps the most poignant law—and the one that has recently come into the national spotlight after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot—is Title 18 U.S.C. 1752, the federal crime of trespassing on a restricted building or grounds.
The legal theory of this federal statute is to prohibit trespassing. While taxpayers pay for federal buildings, the government must control the presence of the general public on the property.
In other words, to maintain order and security, the government has the legal right to establish reasonable regulations for the public being on the grounds, including iconic buildings such as the United States Capitol and the White House.
18 U.S. Code 1752 says, “whoever knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within proximity to, any building or grounds when their conduct impedes or disrupts normal business….”
This statute defines “restricted buildings and grounds” as any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area, such as the White House or its grounds or the Vice President's grounds, as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1752(c)(1)(A).
It also includes a building or grounds where the President or other people are protected by the Secret Service as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1752(c)(1)(B).
Further, it includes a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1752(c)(1)(C). A related federal statute is 18 U.S.C. 1751 Presidential and Presidential staff assassination, kidnapping, and assault; penalties.
Violating this law can come with severe penalties; depending on the circumstances, you could face as much as ten years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons if you're convicted of this crime. Let's review this federal statute further below.
What Does the Law Say?
Title 18 U.S.C. 1752 covers more behaviors than we consider "trespassing." Specifically, it makes it a crime for anyone to do any of the following knowingly:
- Enter or remain in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1752(a)(1);
- Act in a disorderly or disruptive manner to impede official Government business;
- Block the entrance or exit to a restricted building/grounds with intent to impede Government business;
- Commit physical violence against a person or property on restricted grounds as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1752(a)(4); or
- Fly an "unmanned aircraft" (e.g., a drone) into or above a restricted building or grounds as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1752(a)(5).
Note that 18 U.S.C. 1752 also counts attempting or conspiring to commit any of these behaviors as the same crime as actually succeeding at them—including the same penalties for doing so.
What Is a Restricted Building or Grounds?
While it's a crime to enter any federal property illegally or without authorization (i.e., trespassing), 18 U.S.C. 1752 explicitly defines a restricted building or grounds as any posted or cordoned-off area of the following:
- The White House and the Vice President's official residents and their respective grounds;
- Any place where the President or another person under Secret Service protection is or will be visiting; or
- Any place restricted from conducting a special event of national significance.
What Are Some Examples?
The most notable real-world example in recent memory of widespread violation of 18 U.S.C. 1752 was the U.S. Capitol Building storming by former President Trump's supporters on January 6, 2021.
In an attempt to disrupt Congress' certification of Joseph Biden as the duly elected President, a mob of angry Trump supporters turned violent.
They breached the barriers around the Capitol, forcing their way inside and causing numerous injuries and widespread damage. This action met nearly all the possible criteria for violating 18 U.S.C. 1752, including:
- Willfully entering and remaining in a restricted building, both where the Vice President was visiting and where an event of national significance was happening;
- Willfully acting in a disorderly manner to disrupt official Government business; and
- Causing both damage to property and physical injury.
In the aftermath of the riot, hundreds of people in the crowd were charged with federal crimes, one of the most common violations of 18 U.S.C. 1752. Other examples are discussed below.
EXAMPLE 1: David is angry at the President's policies on immigration. To protest, when the President arrives at his town for a visit, David breaches security and attempts to heckle the President while he gives a speech at a local high school auditorium.
David can be charged with federal trespassing under 18 U.S.C. 1752 because the high school is considered a restricted building while the President is inside.
EXAMPLE 2: Under Secret Service protection, Gina has a crush on the President's son. She finds out where the President's son is attending college and sneaks into his dormitory in an attempt to meet him.
Although Gina had no intent on causing disruption or impeding Government business, she can still be charged with federal trespassing because the Secret Service protects the President's son. Therefore the dorm is considered a restricted building.
What Are the Penalties for Violating 18 U.S.C. 1752?
The penalties for violating this federal law depending on the specific actions taken and the circumstances surrounding the crime:
- For basic incidents of trespassing on restricted property: the crime is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, and you could face a maximum sentence of one year in jail as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1752(b)(2).
- If you carried or used a deadly weapon during the incident, or if anyone suffered significant bodily injury due to the incident: it's charged as a felony, and you could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1752(b)(1)(A).
What Are the Common Defenses
The most common defense to charges under 18 U.S.C. 1752 is lack of knowledge.
Specifically, you didn't know and had no reason to know that the property was restricted. To be convicted of trespassing on the restricted property, the prosecutor must prove that your actions were willful and intentional—that you knew, or should have known, that the property was off-limits.
Additionally, if the government authorized you to be on the property in question—for example, if you were working as a contractor at the White House—you can't be convicted of trespassing on the restricted property.
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the government can impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on constitutionally protected activity.
However, protestors can legally gather outside the government building and engage in peaceful and orderly demonstrations if they don't disrupt governmental activity. Perhaps we can argue that you were there peacefully and did not participate in a riot of unlawful activity.
Our federal criminal defense lawyers can review the case details and provide advice and legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California. Contact us via phone or fill out the contact form.