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Common Halloween hazards can lead to criminal charges

Ghosts and goblins may not be the only hazards to watch out for this Halloween. The hunt for haunted grounds can lead to unexpected trouble.

Every October, many teens and young adults start looking for haunted grounds to go visit around Halloween. The problems that arise when looking for these locations usually fall in to two categories: who the properties belong to, and the people they go with.

While there are many places you can look online for a list of places that are believed to be haunted, they rarely provide any information about the site other than the stories of the why the location is haunted and where to find the location.  Whether these locales are haunted or not, they almost always are someone else’s property.  Many of the properties that are “known” as haunted locations have warnings not to trespass, security systems, and more frequent police patrols. Going on someone else’s property could result in criminal trespass charges.

Criminal trespass is defined in a number of different ways, but the most relevant portions for this article make it a crime to be on someone else’s property for an unlawful purpose, or to be on someone else’s property after receiving notice that entry on to the property is forbidden. These notices can easily be missed or ignored because they can be part of a larger sign with more information or a sign that a person does not see while approaching the area.  Even areas that are normally open to the public, such as parks and graveyards, can have signs stating that they are closed during certain hours.

Even without the formal notice of a criminal trespass charge, a person could potentially face loitering or prowling charges.  Georgia law defines loitering or prowling as being “in a place at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity.”  As one can imagine, many of the properties which are considered haunted are not properties that are actively in use, especially during the night time hours when many people seek out haunted properties.  Being around a closed or abandoned property at night could be considering being in a place at a time or manner that is not usual for law abiding citizens and that this cause concern for the safety of the property, which could lead to a charge of loitering or prowling.

The other aspect to consider are the other people going on these misadventures.  Many times, its groups of teens and young adults, which means that only one of them needs to be overly bold to get the others in trouble. What may start as an innocent plan to go observe a haunted area from the public roads can lead to individuals encouraging each other to go on to the property or to even see if there are unlocked doors or windows they can enter through.  There have even been situations where individuals who did not go on to or enter a property got charged because they were with other people who did.

When groups of teens and young adults get together, it only takes one to make the whole thing go downhill. If one person brings alcohol and the group is underage, or if one person brings drugs, it can result in even worse decisions being made by individuals or the group as a whole.  It also increases the likelihood of police interaction.

This is not an exhaustive list of charges individuals could face for participating in these types of activities.  The charges could certainly be far more serious than the ones mentioned in this article, if the right set of circumstances surrounded them.  All of this information is not to say that a person would be able to be convicted under each of these circumstances, but this information should be kept in mind to avoid being in a position to get arrested and have to fight being convicted.  Play it safe this Halloween and stay away from any haunted properties.