Housing Authority Officer Issued Invalid Barring Order
Facts: While on patrol duty for sites under the control of a PHA, a police officer encountered an individual sitting on a stoop in the courtyard of one of the sites. When the officer approached him, he got up and walked off, but stopped when the officer asked him to halt.
The officer testified that he verified that the individual was neither a resident of a site nor a member of a resident’s household. The officer explained that he didn’t verify whether he was a guest because residents are “responsible for their guests at all times” and the individual wasn’t with a resident host at the time of the stop. The officer issued him a barring notice for one year on the grounds that he wasn’t an authorized person and “not a guest.” The officer wrote out the barring notice in front of him, advised him orally that he was barred from the site, and tried to get him to sign it to acknowledge receipt. The individual refused to sign and ran off.
A few days after the initial encounter and approximately a month later, the officer was again patrolling the site when he again encountered the individual inside the courtyard. The individual was arrested on both occasions and charged with unlawful entry.
The officer was the sole witness for the government. After his testimony, lawyers for the individual asked for an acquittal, arguing that the government had failed to establish that their client was an unauthorized person and was not a guest on the day the barring notice was issued.
After the court denied the request, the individual’s mother testified as the sole witness for the defense. She testified that she moved to the site in 1992, had lived in various units there, and still resided there at the time of the trial. She further testified that until January 2013, the individual lived with her in several different units within the site. She stated that after that, he no longer lived with her, but visited her on a regular basis; that he checked up on her because she’s on dialysis; and that it was “pretty safe to say” that her son still had a lot of friends in the area. She testified that she couldn’t recall whether she was with her son at any time on the dates he was arrested, but acknowledged that she wasn’t with him at the time of the arrests.
The trial court readily found that the government had proven the first two elements of unlawful entry by showing that the individual entered the site voluntarily, on purpose, and not by mistake or accident. The court also found no evidence that at the initial encounter he was on the most direct route to or from any location where he was a guest and no evidence that he was accompanied personally by any resident whom he was visiting at that time. The trial court found him guilty of both counts of unlawful entry. The individual appealed.
Ruling: A District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the convictions.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the government failed to show that the barring order was valid because it didn’t prove that the defendant was an unauthorized person and wasn’t a guest on the day the officer issued the order. There was no evidence about whether the individual had or lacked a guest pass, and the officer acknowledged that he didn’t verify whether he was a guest, which the court took to mean that he didn’t ask about or review a guest pass. Therefore, the individual’s convictions of unlawful entry for being on the site’s grounds without lawful authority couldn’t be sustained.
- Winston v. United States, January 2015