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The state of California considers schools and other areas where children congregate to be in need of special consideration and protection. As a result, under the California Penal Code, individuals who loiter on school grounds may be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
An individual charged with loitering must have loitered or delayed either on school grounds or in a public place that children gather in. If an individual is asked to leave by a designated official but returns within 72 hours, that individual may also be said to have loitered. Legally, a person can only be considered to loiter if he or she has no lawful reason to be on the property and if the individual intends to commit a crime while there. Both the conditions of no lawful reason for a defendant’s presence and defendant’s intent to commit a crime must be established for a prosecutor to prove the charge.
Consider the following examples to better understand the statute. James is arrested after being found outside the playground at his daughter’s school. He and his wife are currently engaged in a fierce fight over custody of their children, and officials find inside his car evidence that indicates James had intended to kidnap his daughter and take her to Utah where his parents live. In this case, even though James may have a lawful reason to be at his daughter’s school, he also intends to commit a crime while on the property and is probably guilty of loitering at a school.
In another example, Russell picks up his daughter regularly after school but occasionally makes a little money on the side selling drugs to parents who ask for some. He may be guilty of possession of illegal substances with intent to sell, but he has a lawful reason to be at the school. Therefore, it would be difficult for prosecutors to prove a loitering charge.
The penalties a defendant may face under the Penal Code allow for some flexibility depending on number of offenses, sex offender status or prior convictions. For those with no prior history, potential punishments could be a $1000 fine and/or up to six months in jail. Those who have been convicted of loitering at a school in the past or who have other types of prior convictions may face more severe penalties such as greater fines or harsher jail sentences.
With both conditions being necessary to prove loitering on a school, individuals who are threatened with arrest under this statute have reason to stand their ground. Anyone who has a lawful reason to be on school grounds is probably not guilty of loitering. Similarly, a homeless person asked to leave a park where she is sleeping is probably not guilty of loitering either since she has no intent to commit a crime while on the property.
If you have questions about this section of the Penal Code or would like to speak to an attorney because you or a loved one has been charged with loitering at a school, we can help. Our law offices can speak with you confidentially and advise you based on years of experience. In cases like these, expert attorneys can be especially proactive. By engaging the services of our firm early on, you may even be able to have charges reduced or dismissed. Call us today to find out how we can help.