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Old 06-05-2012, 12:04 AM
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 7
Legal question- Trespassing on public school property

My grade is currently planning our high school senior prank. The latest idea is a sleep over staged on the school's turf field. The plan is to bring tents and sleep on the field until morning. Then, clean up all our stuff and go to school!

The prank is harmless and is more for the grade to have fun. The one concern that was mentioned was the possibility of it being seen as trespassing.

Would being on the school's turf field overnight- which is readily accessible- be seen as trespassing? The reason we have doubts that it is is because it's public property and will not be in use by the public/school at the time. Obviously if the police came and asked us to leave we would, though we'd like to know what we'd be getting ourselves into beforehand.

In addition to the objective legal question, I'd like to pose a subjective question. If it was legally considered trespassing, what would be the harm in it? Would the police/school be likely to press charges, or would they just ask us to leave? I'm leaning towards the latter, though I' d like to get an unbiased opinion.


Additional info:
The school is in NJ
Old 06-05-2012, 12:45 AM
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 14,187
It's publicly owned property not a publicly accessible property so yes could be trespassing. No idea about the rest.
Old 06-05-2012, 04:49 AM
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Location: Lethbridge, Alberta
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Anecdotal answer only, I'm afraid, but FWIW, here it is:

In good weather, and sometimes when it wasn't (note that we were in Canada, where snow is likely in the fall), my friends and I would play Canadian-rules football on the local high school field in the evenings. The high school teams had finished their practice, and we'd take over from when they finished until dark, or sometimes beyond.

Nobody ever bothered us--no police, no neighbourhood busybodies, nobody. We weren't noisy (outside of what one might expect to hear in a football game, such as, "Heads up, Johnny; coming to you!"), and we were generally done by 10:00 p.m. We were never bothered by police or neighbours.

This leads me to believe that as long as you were quiet by a reasonable hour, nobody would notice, and nobody would care.
Old 06-05-2012, 07:23 AM
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: "Hicksville", Ark.
Posts: 33,147
It is my experience that most senior pranks are either against the rules or illegal.

Yes, you would be trespassing. How they would respond depends on how your school views senior pranks. At the far end is refusing to let the kids graduate, though that would doubtlessly create a public uproar.

And, of course, this is all hypothetical, as our board cannot advocate illegal activity.
Old 06-05-2012, 07:29 AM
Graphite is a great
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We like to place legal and medical questions in IMHO rather than General Questions. moved

samclem, MOderator
Old 06-05-2012, 07:35 AM
Join Date: Feb 2001
Posts: 923
When I was a kid, we did lots of student pranks involving trespassing on school property in the dead on night.

In the hindsight of 20 years, everything we did was blatantly illegal and stupid as hell. Easily could have been arrested (in these days of zero tolerance, almost certainly).

Its trespassing. Its illegal. Its stupid. Go meet some girls instead.

Last edited by mozchron; 06-05-2012 at 07:37 AM.
Old 06-05-2012, 07:50 AM
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Western Pennsylvania
Posts: 27,362
Speaking only from my experience, it is the keg that will draw the ire of the police.
Old 06-05-2012, 07:54 AM
Join Date: Aug 2008
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Originally Posted by kayaker View Post
Speaking only from my experience, it is the keg that will draw the ire of the police.
Yeah, I missed that. That is more likely to create problems. And, BTW, I'm not a lawyer.

Last edited by BigT; 06-05-2012 at 07:54 AM.
Old 06-05-2012, 08:01 AM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: North of Boston
Posts: 9,933
It's definitely trespassing. And no idea on the likelyhoods, but IME, high school pranks that do not involve theft or damage to property are usually met with a stern speech from the school administration and no police action. Pranks that DO involve theft or damage to property will involve the police, and kids being denied their diplomas, and even criminal charges & jail time for anyone over 18. Placing tent stakes in a maintained athletic field could be seen as damage to property.

And there's no mention of a keg in the OP. I think kayaker was making a joke, BigT.
Old 06-05-2012, 08:12 AM
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 6
This sounds like a prank we tried to pull in my senior year at an NJ high school. In the end, it never worked out since only 5-10 people showed up. I'm told the cops went over and asked them to leave. They did so peacefully and that was the end of it.
Old 06-05-2012, 08:19 AM
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Lovely Montclair, NJ
Posts: 12,421
The police aren't going to want to deal with processing 50 arrests over a stupid prank. As students, you generally have permission to be on the property, it's a little trickier to prove you're trespassing. I would think, to justify an arrest, the school would have to tell you specifically that you are not allowed on the property between XXpm and YYam, have secured the entrances to the property which you went around, or one of their employees asks you specifically to leave, and you don't.

However, there's kind of no point to this prank. If a bunch of you go to the school, chances are high that someone will notice, and will call the police. The police won't let you stay, you get to pack up and go home at 10pm, what fun. Unless one of your dopey friends brought a beer, at which point you'll wish that you got to pack up and go home at 10pm.
Old 06-05-2012, 08:32 AM
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Originally Posted by muldoonthief View Post
It's definitely trespassing.
No its not. It could be depending on the circumstances. The appropriate NJ statute is 2C:18-3. The important part:

Defiant trespasser. A person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place as to which notice against trespass is given by:

(1) Actual communication to the actor; or

(2) Posting in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders; or

(3) Fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders.
So it depends on if they were 1) told (school rules or guidlines) to not be there, 2) there is a sign stating "no tresspassing" or specific hours or 3) they have to hop a fence.

Most likely they will be told to leave and if they come back they will be in violation of (1).

Although I believe your chances of getting arrested by just being there is slim (not legal advice), your chances of being kept out of graduation for participating in a prank are much greater.

My local high school hires police officers to pull security on school grounds the night before graduation because of past problems.

Last edited by Loach; 06-05-2012 at 08:33 AM.
Old 06-05-2012, 08:42 AM
Mostly harmless
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IANAL, but I am an experienced parent.

*IF* y'all do this, I suggest:
  • No tents. Pegs will tear up the grass, giving cause to charges, however phoney. Also, a security issue.
  • No booze or drugs.
  • Find a couple of sympathetic adults to be chaperones.
  • Police your trash.
  • Find a place to sleep in the open where you don't have to hop a fence. It would be a better statement if you did this in the front yard.
Old 06-05-2012, 09:03 AM
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Great White North
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YMMV, but here in Ontario, Canada, although funded by the provincial government, the school boards are run as corporations and their buildings and grounds are considered private property.
That said, to accomodate the community most schools will post "hours of use" signs when public access will be permitted but any access outside of these posted hours will be considered trespassing. Areas are also fenced and gated where access is prohibited. Of course, there are some exceptions, such as jointly owned properties with the city, etc..
As for the OP, if the police are forgiving, they would merely ask you to pack up and leave. If you were causing a disturbance, etc.. they could charge everybody with a number of violations such as trespassing, public mischief, noise ordinances, underage drinking, etc..

Back in the 80's, we used to do a similar thing, except we called it the "Tequila Sunrise" and we didn't camp on school property.

Last edited by Sparky812; 06-05-2012 at 09:06 AM.
Old 06-05-2012, 09:24 AM
Join Date: Apr 2000
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Posts: 11,673
Your senior prank is camping out on school grounds? Seriously? That's the best you guys can come up with?

That's weak.
Old 06-05-2012, 10:21 AM
Join Date: May 2002
Posts: 5,280
Originally Posted by Omar Little View Post
Your senior prank is camping out on school grounds? Seriously? That's the best you guys can come up with?
yeah...for a "prank" like this, why not get permission first? Informally tell a teacher what you're planning to do, and how you are planning to keep it clean and booze-free.
Ask the teacher to let somebody in the office know about it, too.

If you're at a small school where people trust each other,* they may just wink and let you get away with it .
Hey, it could even develop into an annual school tradition.

If you're at a big school with metal detectors everywhere, then don't do anything illegal.

*(which sounds appropriate for a "prank" like this.)

Last edited by chappachula; 06-05-2012 at 10:23 AM.
Old 06-05-2012, 10:27 AM
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Western Pennsylvania
Posts: 27,362
Originally Posted by muldoonthief View Post
And there's no mention of a keg in the OP. I think kayaker was making a joke, BigT.
I guess things have changed quite a bit. I graduated high school in 1976. All of our senior parties involved a keg in the woods, or at least cases of Strohs. Kids nowadays!
Old 06-05-2012, 10:29 AM
Not a real doctor.
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I would not suggest doing it on the turf field. Tent stakes may damage it, and that canget pretty expensive to maintain. I would suggest the front lawn, if possible.
I would also take pains to make sure the school officials are aware that this is not some sort of Occupy Movement. Nobody likes the smell of pepper spray in the morning.

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