What Happens After Trespassing on School Property? Lawyer Says...

This week, our criminal lawyers respond to a young Marylander panicking about the impact of a pending trespassing charge on their military and academic futures -- all to shoot a music video on an empty school campus.

The Question: What do I do about a trespassing charge? What happens now?

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So yesterday, me and 8 other people I was with got charged with trespassing inside a public school by some cops.

We are roughly around 18 years of age and were originally at the location to shoot a music video for one of my friend's songs. I never thought we were going to actually go inside the closed school, even though someone said that the door was unlocked. I was under the assumption that we were going to shoot the music video outside.

I was wrong. We all walked into the unlocked school building to get out of the cold, as well as to wait for the video director/producer that my friend hired.

Up to this point, I was still very hesitant about being in the building as there were cameras down every hall. But, once the video director came, I was more eased as he was an adult who seemed pretty seasoned in this field and I was under the assumption that this was going to be fine.

Turns out an hour later, I go outside and see an officer patrolling the school. He then proceeds to tell me that an alarm was triggered in the cafeteria of the school (which I didn't know it was the cafeteria at the time) and asked if I knew anything about it. I told him I didn't.

I then later called my friend who was the artist of the song and the main star of this music video to inform him that there was a cop outside.

Everyone then left the building as more cops arrived and we were thus charged with CR 6-403 trespassing.

The cops on the scene seemed pretty understanding and just disappointed in us that we went into the school but it also seemed like they were saying this situation should really damage our future careers or affect us that much.

But I was still wondering, what would be the best thing for us to do?

This is the first charge we all have gotten from the police, we are all 18 and in college or the military (besides the director) and I am personally worried that this would give us a criminal record. I'd like to have a clean record and I'm not sure that is possible with this charge.

The cops told us we were going to be mailed our court dates and stuff, but I am also not sure if we could show up at court, hear the charge, and then maybe possibly hire a lawyer if charges are being pressed?

I am not sure. I know this is just a misdemeanor, but it still worries me a lot. We have plenty of time before I go to court because I won't be in state.

Also, is it possible for us to all hire a lawyer to represent us all?

Also, I am unsure if there were any trespassing signs or not because personally I wasn't paying them mind when we went through the unlocked school doors, but I'm sure it is common sense that a school is off limits, especially when we never asked permission to shoot there.

The Answer: There's a possibility you could get the case dismissed, but you'll need a lawyer to do that.

Okay, deep breath. There's a ton of questions here, so let's tackle them one by one.

1. What would the best thing be for us to do after getting charged with trespassing?

Talk to a lawyer!

It's not a cop-out, but the truth: Only a lawyer can know what the best thing will be for you, personally, to do in this situation.

On the other hand, if you're talking legal strategy, then...

Yep, definitely talk to a lawyer.

It's unethical for a lawyer to offer legal advice to someone who isn't their client and not part of a formal consultation. (As we like to say on this blog, we're lawyers, but usually not your lawyer.)

These answers are intended for educational purposes to get you pointed in the right direction, pull back the curtain on the legal system in Maryland, and give you some idea as to what might happen.

However, if you want to know exactly what we'd do if we represented you, then you'll need to talk to a lawyer.

2. Will this trespassing charge be on my criminal record?

Generally speaking, yes: Criminal charges result in a criminal record.

However, it may be possible to request an expungement -- basically a public erasing of the criminal charge -- if you are not convicted.

Not all cases end in "guilty" or "not guilty," but usually only a lawyer can thread that particular needle on behalf of clients.

For example, a lawyer may be able to persuade the State Attorney's office to dismiss the case altogether in exchange for some community service hours. A dismissal is not a guilty charge, setting you up for an expungement down the road.

3. How will this trespassing charge impact my friend's military career?

Well, if they're asked if they've ever been charged with something during the application process, they'll probably need to answer "yes."

That's not necessarily disqualifying, though!

So be honest upfront, because getting kicked out after struggling through boot camp and ATS because they find out you lied about criminal charges will hurt so much worse.

4. How will this trespassing charge impact our college careers?

If colleges kicked out every student who did something legally questionable, from trespassing to protesting, then they would certainly be much less interesting.

Still, the same thought process for military applications applies to college applications: Be honest, because the consequences later will just hurt more.

(An academic misconduct specialist would be able to tell you more, though -- we're focused on the criminal implications in this article.)

5. Can we hear the charges first, then get a lawyer if they're bad enough?

Sure, but it may be difficult to retain counsel at your price point and in time for your actual hearing.

Lawyers aren't required to take on every requested case from possible clients, and the closer you get to the trial, the more money you need upfront. Your legal counsel needs to register themselves as your lawyer for the charge, after all, and that takes time.

Make them drop everything, and you'll pay an emergency premium.

6. Can we hire one criminal defense lawyer to represent all of us who were charged at the same time?

You're probably thinking of class-action lawsuits, where one lawyer (or one legal team) handles a giant bulk civil litigation matter on behalf of many plaintiffs.

For criminal matters, each defendant needs their own attorney to prevent possible conflicts of interest.

7. If the school was unlocked or wasn't posted as private property, then does it count as trespassing?

While you didn't initially ask this question, this seems to be an implication spread throughout your retelling of the incident: That maybe the trespassing charge doesn't count because you didn't see a sign, or that the door wasn't locked.

If there were signs that forbid entry to people after-hours, then it might be trespassing -- even if you didn't see the signs, and even if the school was unlocked.

A criminal defense lawyer can argue this point, of course, depending on the circumstances.

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Our automatic disclaimer: We're lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We're providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual's attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a "real" response!