Questions About Trespassing

I have few questions for my friends in US who are familiar with the legal system there. It is about definition of trespassing, and property owner’s right when it happens.

It is about the recent case of Guo Degang, the famous Chinese talk show (well, I know it is a funny translation, but what is the right one) actor. That is maybe the hottest news in the recent days before the media was ordered to stop reporting it. Huge amount of people rushed into debating whether they support Guo, or not, and why, but few people really dig into the details of the fact part. Let me try to repeat what is happening. I want to understand how people in the US deal with it, since there is no exact way to define trespassing in China yet.

The event in concern started when two persons claimed to be affiliated with Beijing TV got into the residential area of Guo (an area owned collectively by all the villa owners), and went along the stairs of Guo’s house (the part at the side of his garden), and knocked the door and talked with Mr. Lee, who associated with Guo. After few minutes, Lee physically forced the reporters to leave the house. (People are arguing whether the activity is defined as beating, or pushing, etc).

Here are my questions. Please help me to understand what the rules in America are.

Although in China, most people define trespassing by the fact whether they entered the DOOR of the building, I suspect by the time the reporter entered the gate of the residential area is the time they conducted trespassing. So questions:

  1. Is it a trespassing when the reporters enter the gate of the residential area? Collectively, the property is owned (well, in China, at least it can be defined as leased from the State for 70 years) by the residents of the residential area. If the reporter don’t have business with any of the residents, is it a trespassing?
  2. Can the activity of interviewing be defined as legitimate business reason without making appointment with one of the residents behind that gate? I know in some States in US, postman who is going to deliver, policeman when conducting business, and people who can prove to get lost are not trespassing when they enter the property. They are generally defined as Invitee. Are journalists also invitee?
  3. If entering the residential area, is entering the stairs of the house trespassing?
  4. If entering the stairs of the house not trespassing, is it trespassing when they knock the door of the house?

If the reporters WAS trespassing, or when told to leave and given enough time to leave, but still does not leave, what is the action the house keeper can do?

  1. Obviously, he has the right to call police immediately.
  2. Does the host have the right to physically drive the person away? I heard the idea that although in most States, shooting the trespasser have been strictly forbidden, in States like Taxes, trespassing after dark, and can cause immediate threat to the safety of the owner entitled the owner to shoot the trespasser to death. I am not sure whether it is true or still the case. Does pushing or beating allowed?
  3. To what extend can the house owner drive the trespasser? Can he only drive him out of the stairs, the garden of his individual house, or drive the trespasser all the way out of the residential area? In US, the case will be people living in an condo. Can he drive the person out of the whole building or just his apartment? If he cannot, who are the legal entity to drive the person out of the condo, if no management company exists for that condo? Even when they have a management company, can one of the house owners do it by himself?

Another set of question relates to the right of journalist and the rights of privacy.

  1. Does the answer to any of the questions above change if the person accused as trespasser is a journalist?
  2. Can the journalist take video or photo of the interviewee without him knowing that?
  3. If the above is illegal, what remedy action can the interviewee take? For example, if I found someone took a naked picture of me in my private area, can I force the person to delete the photo, or have to wait for the person to publicly distribute the photos and sue him? If he refuses to delete, what violate action can I take to avoid future damage?

I hope the answers to the questions at least help to educate people, like me, about the right thing to do in events like this.

7 thoughts on “Questions About Trespassing

  1. zjemi

    Good question and I suspect most Americans (including me) don’t know much. Unfortunately it seems that anyone can take pictures of other people without their permission, although many television shows have the courtesy to block out faces in a crowd if they don’t have permission. As for inside the house vs. inside the gate, I feel that it would be wrong to walk onto someone’s property without their permission just to, for example, see their flowers up close, but it would be OK to go up to deliver a package or knock on their door. In many news cases, reporters seem to surround people’s houses, trampling their plants, preventing people from going in and out, until the courts issue a Restraining Order or something. I’m not sure about this last, but privacy seems to be a hard thing to protect outside the home. Paparazzi seem to be allowed to take pictures of celebrities on private boats at sea, through windows, etc. until the victims go to court. I don’t think journalists have any special permission or any special protection. I usually feel sorry for the celebrity.

  2. shan

    I’m no lawyer, but I think most Americans would accept trespassing as unauthorized access to private property. In the US, a condo or building would qualify as private property, including the plot of land that the building sits on. The street in front of the building, or outside of the gate of the residential area would all be public property. The rules are the same for everybody, including journalists.

    Requesting for an interview is a legitimate and reasonable request, and knocking on someone’s door for an interview is probably okay (though can be considered harassment if done repeatedly). Someone forcing his/her way through after the request for interview is denied is definitely trespassing. The rules aren’t any different for journalists.

    In the US, initiating violence against trespassers probably depends on what the trespasser is doing. The usual course of action would be to call the police instead of hitting the trespasser. Yes, there are cases where people shoot trespassers with guns, but there needs to be a very serious need for self-defense, such as if the trespasser is a burglar with a handgun, and the owner feels his family’s lives are in danger. Even then, if the owner kills the trespasser, there would still likely be a trial to determine whether the owner is guilty of homicide, as in: was shooting the burglar to death excessive or justified?

    As for unauthorized images, you can immediately as the person to delete them. If they don’t, you call the police. No need to wait for them to be published.

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. jqian

    In Mr. Guo’s case, I don’t think trespassing is the key of the issue. It’s actually a trivial event that happened at the wrong time and wrong place for Mr. Guo. Even if Mr. Guo’s student hit somebody, it’s hard to blame Mr. Guo for his student’s fault. Trespassing somebody’s property and violating their privacy is not correct anyway.

    I think the media propaganda against Mr.s Guo is overblown and carried to the extreme.

    It reminds me of the similar kind of campaign against the actress Ms. Zhangzhiyi.

    In China, you are either completely right or completely wrong. When can the society accept an imperfect person?

    Mr. Clinton committed adultery in his presidency, but he still survived and prospered as a president.

  4. Shrek7

    Normally a person has to be first asked by the owner to leave before they can be a wrongful act of trespassing.

  5. Jerome Cole

    In my home state, Oregon, we can legally shoot and kill anyone not authorized to be in our home. However, each state is different and I suspect that Oregon is something of an outlier.

  6. jeanne

    I beleive that someone needs to be asked to leave unless there is a no solicitors sign, although it is assumes that the person will get to the door before being able to read that due to space and size of signage. If the person is asked to leave and does not, he is then tresspassing. I beleive a permanent statement (never come here again) is needed before a return visit is called trespassing. In the West we have a saying: “If you kill the burglar, make sure he falls inside.” Meaning that if he falls inside the door, you have killed in self defense, but if he falls outside you are guilty of manslaughter at the least. This would indicate to me that while your yard is private property there is a line between a tresspasser and an unwanted visitor. Probably intent would be involved in making that call.

    However, you cannot put anything in or on somone’s mailbox as it is a felony. We actually had people threaten to sue us over a lost dog brochure we left. Jerks.

    To clarify for zjemi: with journalists this becomes an issue of media law, which treats private and celebrity citizens as 2 different entities.

    Generally for private citizens: their image cannot be used for financial gain. This means that it is legal for me to take your picture if you are in a public place and use it for myself. I can have it in my home or give a copy to a friend. I don’t really know how this is affected by the internet. It seems that if it is an inoccous photo it is usually okay to post, but not if it has been altered or shows someone in a bad light, but it is being treated on a case by case basis. And we are getting stupid on how far we are taking that, but that’s another matter.

    If the private citizen is at an event deemed newsworthy, their image can be used for gain. If you get arrested, are at a political rally, etc., you have given up the rights to your image. These uses are often innoccous; one year I found a picture of myself in town central in the local phone book, and have been in the paper for parades and for art openings. If you are at a political rally, your image may be used.

    With celebrities and politicians, it is pretty much fair game. This is based on the idea that they have chosen a public lifestyle, which is true. While it may be tasteless, the celebrity does not get to choose what is used, for example, Angelina Jolie cannot sue if a paprazzi catches her when picking her nose in public. This is sensible since, say looking at a president, he cannot repress unflattering photos of himself beating up his kid. (No president in mind here, Im’ just trying to come up with an example.)

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