Criminal Law Blog

Unlawful entry does not require the government to prove that a defendant believes his entry is unlawful.

Adam Jaramillo Ortberg v. United States, Nos. 11-CM-1154 & 12-CO-874
(decided December 19, 2013)
Players: Judges Beckwith, Easterly, and Pryor.  Opinion by Judge Easterly.  William Francis Xavier Becker for appellant.  Trial judge: Marisa J. Demeo
Facts:  Adam Jaramillo Ortberg was convicted of unlawful entry after entering a hotel banquet hall at the W Hotel where there was an “invitation-only” fundraiser for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Ortberg is an animal rights activist and he was there to protest.  He entered the banquet hall through an exit or service door after walking by a registration desk.  Once inside, he held up a sign and began yelling “an educational message about his cause.”  He appealed his conviction on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to uphold his conviction for unlawful entry.
Issue:  Whether a defendant can be convicted of “unlawful entry” under D.C. Code § 22-3302 if he merely “knew or should have known” that his entry was unwanted by the lawful occupant, or if the government must show that he intended to defy the will of the lawful occupant or intended to violate the law? 
Holding:  The offense of unlawful entry is proven where the government shows (1) that the defendant intentionally entered the premises—which was not in dispute here—and (2) that the defendant knew or should have known that his entry was unwanted by the occupant.  While a defendant cannot be convicted where he enters with a bona fide or good faith belief that he has a right to enter, there is no requirement that he be explicitly informed that he cannot be there, nor is there a requirement that he believe his entry is unlawful.  Applying those requirements to the facts of this case, Ortberg should have known he was not welcome in the banquet hall, and he did not have a bona fide belief that he was welcome (he admitted as much), so there is sufficient evidence to sustain his conviction. 
Of note:  The opinion made quick work of Ortberg’s argument that Hotel banquet halls are semi-public spaces, disposing of that in a footnote by stating that a privately rented banquet hall “under no definition could be considered a semi-public space.”   The opinion is very cryptic on the details of the offense, such as which Congressman was hosting the event and what Ortberg’s sign said, perhaps because it did not want to further publicize a message delivered through unlawful means.  This is not Ortberg’s first time in D.C. Courts. Goldman Sachs previously sought an injunction against him to prevent him from protesting outside of their offices and employees’ homes.  While successful in the trial court, the preliminary injunction was vacated by the D.C. Court of Appeals last April. JD. 

Read full opinion here.