If you’ve been watching reruns of “Ghost Hunters” or videos about haunted sites in Georgia, think twice before visiting any of these properties. Most are privately owned, and venturing onto one could lead to criminal trespass or even loitering charges if caught. What starts out as a seemingly fun teen or young adult Halloween activity could lead to a night of trouble.
The internet is full of tales of haunted houses, cemeteries and buildings in Georgia. But while the stories are great at describing the paranormal activity and location, they rarely include details about whether the site allows visitors. In fact, many of these properties have signs warning against trespassing as well as security systems and more frequent police patrols. Going on someone else’s property could result in criminal trespass charges.
Under criminal trespass, it is a crime to be on someone else’s property for unlawful purposes or if you have received notice that entry is forbidden. Notice can be in the form of a sign, which might not be visible upon entering a site. Or it might be part of a larger sign with more information than the warning, making it difficult to see.
Even areas that are normally open to the public, such as parks and graveyards, might have signs stating they are closed during certain hours. Visiting after hours could result in a criminal trespass charge.
Stepping onto private property without being invited could also lead to a loitering or prowling charge. 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.”
Many supposedly haunted sites are vacant or closed at night. Being on one of these properties at night could be considered at a time or in a manner not usual for law abiding citizens, and thus cause concern for the safety of the property. This might then lead to a loitering or prowling charge.
Teens and young adults rarely visit haunted sites alone. What may start as an innocent plan to observe a haunted area from the road could lead to individuals encouraging one another to step onto the property, or to try to enter a building through an unlocked door or window. Just being part of the group, even if not the one to venture onto the property, could get a teen or young adult into trouble. Individuals who never left the road have been charged with loitering or prowling if they were with others who did go onto or enter a property.
When groups of teens and young adults get together, it sometimes only takes one person to make the whole gathering go downhill. An individual bringing alcohol into a group of underage teens or adults, or anyone bringing drugs, can lead to bad decisions by others or the group as a whole. This often increases the likelihood of police interaction and can result in charges on top of criminal trespass and loitering or prowling.
This is not an exhaustive list of possible charges a teen or young adult could face on a haunted house adventure – given the right set of circumstances, the charges could be far more serious than the ones mentioned in this article. A charge is not an automatic conviction, but it’s best to avoid an arrest altogether by keeping in mind the consequences of venturing onto private property. Play it safe this Halloween and stay away from any haunted properties.
If you or your child have been charged with criminal trespass or loitering or prowling, the experienced criminal attorneys at Ghanouni Teen & Young Adult Defense Firm can help. Contact us for a complimentary Defense Strategy Meeting.