Is a “No Trespassing” sign vague?

Is a “No Trespassing” sign vague? That’s what our Supreme Court says.

In State v. Christensen, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided that police officers can go to your house, even if you have multiple “No Trespassing” signs posted on your property. In the Christensen case, the police were at someone’s house because of a report of drug sales. While speaking to the people who lived there, the cops were instructed the neighbor’s house was where the drug sales were happening. That neighbor was Mr. Christensen.

Mr. Christensen had multiple “No Trespassing” signs on his property, posted all along his lengthy driveway. The cops drove up to his driveway (ignoring all signs) and spoke with Mr. Christensen regarding the accusation. While speaking to him, cops smelled “an overwhelming order associated with the manufacture of methamphetamine…” As a result, the officers searched Mr. Christensen’s home and found meth and guns, and they charged him accordingly.

The Court then goes on to explain a Knock-and-Talk and how it’s legal for the cops to approach your house and knock on your door to speak with you. However, the Court also said the person inside the home is not required to open the door or speak with whoever is knocking, including the police. Basically, anyone is allowed to knock on your door so long as they have a legal reason to be there. For example, census takers, mail carriers, utility workers, etc. have permission to enter your property, but you have the right to deny entry to anyone. You must give “express orders” not to come onto your property that are “clear demonstrations, unambiguous, and obvious to the casual visitor.” One would think a sign clearly saying “No Trespassing” would suffice, right? Not so much. Basically, the Court says the law already recognizes the fact that people can’t just come onto your property without permission. Trespassing is a criminal offense after all. The Court suggests more specific language should be used, although it does not give any examples of language that would work. Practically speaking, if a police officer knocks on your door, you are not required to answer the door, unless they have a warrant to search your home or a warrant for your arrest. Also, you are never required to speak with an officer, especially if you’re under arrest.

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