Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Court Grants Homeless Right to Private Property

For centuries the rights of private property were sacrosanct, and nobody could force a property owner to allow trespass on his land. “A man’s home is his castle” is a famous expression illustrating that the owner can exclude anyone and everyone as he likes. Trespass has long been a crime, for which a property owner can sue and recover damages. Under traditional English law, trespass was not justified even when it was the result of a mistake.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court, however, has just invented a new right for homeless people to trespass on private property and stay there, in the case of Commonwealth v. Magadini. A homeless man was convicted by a jury on seven counts of criminal trespass, for taking shelter in privately owned buildings while he was subject to “no trespass orders” prohibiting him from going there. His excuse was the cold temperatures outside, but the trial judge observed that there were lawful alternatives available to defendant and he did not have to trespass in order to survive.

Yet the Massachusetts Supreme Court overturned nearly all of his convictions. The Court ruled that cold weather may be enough for a homeless person to justify his trespass into a private building. If it was cold outside, and if the homeless person demonstrates a lack of lawful alternatives, then he may have a right to trespass on private property.

Cold weather might not seem like the kind of “clear and imminent danger” that centuries of English law required before allowing someone to justify his trespass onto private property. After all, there was cold weather in England in the 1600s, but a man’s home was still his castle no matter how low the mercury dropped outside. Due to this new ruling, however, someone else’s property may become a homeless man’s castle in the wintertime in Massachusetts.

Listen to the radio commentary here:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep comments short. Long comments will be deleted.