2

The Massachusetts trespass statute reads (emphasis mine)

part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 120

Section 120. Whoever, without right enters or remains in or upon the dwelling house, buildings, boats or improved or enclosed land, wharf, or pier of another, or enters or remains in a school bus, as defined in section 1 of chapter 90, after having been forbidden so to do by the person who has lawful control of said premises, whether directly or by notice posted thereon, or in violation of a court order pursuant to section thirty-four B of chapter two hundred and eight or section three or four of chapter two hundred and nine A, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days or both such fine and imprisonment. Proof that a court has given notice of such a court order to the alleged offender shall be prima facie evidence that the notice requirement of this section has been met. A person who is found committing such trespass may be arrested by a sheriff, deputy sheriff, constable or police officer and kept in custody in a convenient place, not more than twenty-four hours, Sunday excepted, until a complaint can be made against him for the offence, and he be taken upon a warrant issued upon such complaint.

This section shall not apply to tenants or occupants of residential premises who, having rightfully entered said premises at the commencement of the tenancy or occupancy, remain therein after such tenancy or occupancy has been or is alleged to have been terminated. The owner or landlord of said premises may recover possession thereof only through appropriate civil proceedings.

(source)

What, exactly, does it mean to enter a dwelling? Does part of the person have to enter the dwelling, like sticking their arm inside a window? Or are they trespassing if they insert a tool into the dwelling, like if they stick a hose in the window? What if they stick a tool against the dwelling, with the design and intent that the tool disrupt something inside the dwelling, such as placing that same hose against the window and blowing high pressure air through at sufficient force to knock books over?

For the sake of this question, assume that the dwelling abuts common or public space, such that touching the outside of the building can be done without entering private property.

  • I note that in most cases putting one's arm inside a window requires putting one's entire body on the land where the building was built. – phoog May 10 '16 at 3:44
  • @phoog that applies if the building does not abut a common space or public space. I'll add a note to the question to include this assumption. – atk May 10 '16 at 3:57
1

A Massachusetts court defined “entry” as used in the context of a trespass as:

the undefined word “enter” as used in the statute must be given its usual meaning as commonly understood, see Commonwealth v. Campbell, 415 Mass. 697, 700, 616 N.E.2d 430 (1993), a meaning that presupposes actual, physical presence in or on property. See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 614 (3d ed.1992) (“enter ... 1. To come or go into: The train entered the tunnel. 2. To penetrate, pierce: The bullet entered the victim's skull ” [italics original] ). Cf. id. at 1908 (“trespass ... To commit an unlawful injury to the ... property ... of another ... especially to enter onto another's land wrongfully”).

Com. v. Santos, 792 N.E.2d 702, 705 (Mass. App. 2003).

Does part of the person have to enter the dwelling, like sticking their arm inside a window?

From what I can see, there is no specific guidance on this issue in Massachusetts. Whether or not this would violate the criminal statute you state is going to be a fact specific inquiry.

In the case I cited above, the court held that a crane moving something over someone’s land was not criminal trespass. I think one could argue that sticking an arm in the window of a house, would be trespass. This is assuming you had a right to be on in the area in front of a window. Common areas in an apartment/housing complex come to mind.

Or are they trespassing if they insert a tool into the dwelling, like if they stick a hose in the window?

Again, no clear guidance in Mass., but given the dictionary definition used above where entry “presupposes actual, physical presence in or on property, ” it is not criminal trespass; however this might meet the elements of another crime depending on what that person is doing with the hose.

Also, take a look at the elements of civil trespass (tort of trespass to land). It’s outside the scope of your question but seems to describe the situation you’ve describe.

What if they stick a tool against the dwelling, with the design and intent that the tool disrupt something inside the dwelling, such as placing that same hose against the window and blowing high pressure air through at sufficient force to knock books over?

Again, probably not criminal trespass, but might meet the elements of another crime depending on the facts/circumstances. Definitely an actionable civil trespass claim with the possibility of other torts.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.