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Sunday, July 12, 2015

California Penal Code 602.12 and Unlawful Entry Onto Property to Interfere With Research

Consider a couple of hypothetical situations.

Al is a graduate student at UCLA who lives in Los Angeles, California. It is summertime so Al's grading duties are more relaxed than they normally are during the school year. But Al has a dissertation to complete (or to begin) so he is trying to make the most of his less-hectic schedule to get some research done. Al's buddy, Mike, on the other hand, is not a graduate student and therefore is experiencing summer in all of its glory -- free from the shadow cast by research obligations with no clear end in sight. Mike thinks that Al is working too hard on his research and decides to get Al to take an afternoon off and go on a hike. Mike calls Al, and tells him he's coming over to get him to take an afternoon off from research. Mike then walks over to Al's apartment, knocks on the door, and Al lets him in.

Ruth and Jessica are roommates living in Irvine, California. Ruth is an assistant professor finishing up her first year of teaching law school at UC Irvine. Jessica is a third year associate at Tuchman Marsh, an aggressive, uncompromising, and generally unpleasant law firm. Jessica finally has an evening to spare since the deposition she worked all week to prepare for is finally complete. As she drives home from work at the early hour of 8:00 p.m., she decides that tonight she and Ruth should head out for a few drinks. Jessica knows that Ruth is in the thick of researching for her latest research project on historic Bulgarian evidence law, so she figures that Ruth will be more than willing to take a break for some alcohol. Jessica walks into her apartment and tells Ruth that it's time for a girl's night.

Mike and Jessica have both committed misdemeanors.

They have both violated Penal Code section 602.12, which states:

602.12. (a) Any person who enters the residential real property of an academic researcher for the purpose of chilling, preventing the exercise of, or interfering with the researcher's academic freedom is guilty of trespass, a misdemeanor. 
(b) For the purposes of this section, the following definitions apply: 
(1) "Academic researcher" means any person lawfully engaged in academic research who is a student, trainee, employee, or affiliated physician of an accredited California community college, a campus of the California State University or the University of California, or a Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredited, degree granting, nonprofit institution. Academic research does not include routine, nonlaboratory coursework or assignments. 
(2) "Academic freedom" means the lawful performance, dissemination, or publication of academic research or instruction. 
(c) This section shall not apply to any person who is lawfully engaged in labor union activities that are protected under state or federal law. 
(d) This section shall not preclude prosecution under any other provision of law.
Aside from California's Maxims of Jurisprudence, this is one of my favorite California laws. It doesn't require proof that the defendant forced his or her way onto the property -- the property owner can let the defendants in and may even share the property with the defendants. It doesn't require proof that the defendant ultimately interfered with any research -- even if Al and Ruth turned down the the invitations to take a break, the initial entry into the property is the crime. This crime is a misdemeanor, so under Penal Code section 19 Mike and Jessica may be punished by six months in jail and/or a fine of one thousand dollars.

Of course, it is not likely that Mike and Jessica will be prosecuted. The crime would need to be reported, or an officer who is aware of this strange provision must be present and aware of the parties' research obligations and intentions to interfere. And a prosecutor who could potentially end up trying this case in front of twelve jurors would need to make a decision on whether to file this charge in the event of a report being filed.

Nevertheless, if you want to avoid breaking the law, make sure that your UC-affiliated friend or family member of yours is taking a break from research before you enter their property.

UPDATE: 8/8/2015

I found this record of the Assembly Bill that added section 602.12 to the Penal Code. It looks like the bill was enacted out of concern of threats against researchers who use animals. While 602.12 would probably criminalize some instances of interference with those researchers, the law's poor drafting extends its scope far beyond that limited purpose.

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