When Walking at Night Could Result in a Criminal Charge

On Behalf of | Jan 6, 2020 | Criminal Defense

Taking an evening stroll around your neighborhood is a nice way to appreciate the sights and sounds of your community. Merely walking around at night isn’t a chargeable offense. However, if you have malicious intentions, you could be accused of committing a misdemeanor.

Loitering and Prowling at Night Time

In Pennsylvania, if you walk around a house or other dwelling where people live, and you do so maliciously, you could be charged under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5506, loitering and prowling at night. What this means is if you’re walking down your street admiring the nearby houses or structures, you’ll likely not get charged under this law.

However, if you sneak into the backyard of someone’s home and peer into the windows, your actions would constitute a violation of the loitering and prowling at night statute. On top of that charge, you could also be accused of committing other offenses, such as stalking or invasion of privacy.

Loitering or prowling at night is a third-degree misdemeanor, and if you are convicted you could face:

  • Up to 90 days imprisonment, and/or
  • Up to $5,000 in fines

How is Loitering and Prowling Different from Trespassing?

There are many differences between loitering and prowling at night and trespassing.

First, the law states that loitering and prowling at night is an offense that occurs at night time. The statute concerning trespassing does not have such a time limitation, which means that a person could be charged whether their actions were done at 7:30 am or 7:30 pm.

Next, trespassing can occur when someone knowingly enters, breaks into, or remains in a:

  • Building,
  • Structure, or
  • Any enclosed portion therein

The act of entering an area is not a part of the loitering and prowling at night law. It states that a person commits a violation when they “maliciously” loiter or prowl around a place where people live or dwell.

Last, a person could be considered a simple trespasser if they enter a place to:

  • Terrorize occupants,
  • Start a fire, or
  • Damage property

Other criminal acts are not a part of the loitering and prowling at night law.

In some cases, such as entering a place when notice was given that trespassing is prohibited (what’s called being a defiant trespasser), violations of the trespassing law are charged as third-degree misdemeanors, just as a loitering and prowling at night time offense would be.

However, there are situations in which trespassing is considered a more severe offense and is charged higher. For instance, knowingly entering a building or structure without permission is a third-degree felony, for which penalties include a maximum prison sentence of 7 years.

If you’ve been charged with an offense, such as loitering and prowling or theft, in Scranton, get the legal defense you need by calling the Law Offices of William D. Thompson at 570-846-2819 or contacting us online.