I have found myself wondering about this while looking at online discussion of the recent incident in which a US Senate staffer (allegedly) taped himself having sex with someone else in a congressional hearing room. The U.S. Capitol Police recently announced that no crime had been committed in this case, even though the act had violated Congressional policy.

I have read in many online discussions of this that it was in fact a crime - in particular, the suggestion was made that this would constitute criminal trespass, as the authorization of access to the Capitol Complex for the staffer would have been made on condition of not violating Congressional policy (which, presumably, includes some kind of rule against having sex with someone and taping it), and that, having violated this condition, the staffer would no longer have authorization to access the Capitol Complex.

Although I am in large part interested in the question of whether or not this specifically is true, the larger question also seems very interesting, given many policies of many places can be very restrictive and easy to violate. For instance:

  • If someone was to condition access to their neighborhood party upon those entering not saying any vulgar words, does an invitee commit criminal trespass if they say such a word while at the party ?
  • If access to one's workplace is conditioned on only doing work activities while present during work hours, does one commit criminal trespass if they visit Stack Exchange for non-work purposes during work hours while in their workplace ?

I cannot personally find any particular flaw in the argument that these examples constitute criminal trespass, assuming that access to property may be conditioned upon obeying a given policy, but it seems to me like it would criminalize a massive amount of very common behavior.

  • 3
    Just a note that the reason for the policy is that Congress exists to screw the American people as a collective - it’s not allowed to do it one-by-one.
    – Dale M
    Commented Feb 3 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


assuming that access to property may be conditioned upon obeying a given policy

It can be so conditioned, and a landowner can typically tell you to leave or exclude you if you breach his conditions.

But where your assumption goes wrong is in thinking that the trespass begins automatically upon the breaching of the policy, rather than upon the action of the landowner in deciding to withdraw permission and telling you to leave (as a result of the policy breach).

Where the initial entry was lawful but a person is told to go, there typically has to be a reasonable period of time allowed for departure, and there is no trespass before that period of time has elapsed.

By imposing requirements upon the landowner to actually make decisions about whether there is permission in force or not, contemporaneous with any circumstances which may influence that decision, and to notify those decisions to those he wishes to exclude, we avoid the silly situation in which a landowner declares ahead of time what his decisions on permission would be in a variety of circumstances, but isn't engaged in the activity of discerning whether those circumstances apply and announcing what his decisions actually are.

  • This seems accurate, so I've accepted the answer, given I can't presently find anything contradicting it (though I wouldn't have minded getting a source). Thanks ! Commented Feb 3 at 13:02

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