Loitering is defined as lingering or "hanging around" in a public place. The key to loitering is lingering with no purpose for being there. A common example is when high school students "hang out" in front of the local liquor store. Many states have local ordinances against loitering. As a result, the police have the power to arrest people for loitering.

Don’t I Have the Right to "Hang Out" Wherever I Want to?

Loitering laws are often challenged as being a violation of people’s rights. However, local laws often have time, place, or manner restrictions that only make some types of loitering illegal. For example, a person can loiter in a park but not in front of a hospital. Or a local law might make loitering by minors during school hours illegal. The more specific a loitering law, the less likely a challenge against it will work.

What Are the Consequences of Being Charged with Loitering?

Loitering is somewhat an insignificant crime, although loitering does have the potential to incite more severe crimes. As a result, the consequences for loitering can be among the following:

  • Fines
  • Community service

What is Loitering by Minors?

Many jurisdictions enforce prohibitions against loitering by minors (persons under 18 years old). These are usually enforced during certain hours, such as during the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Or, minors may be prohibited from loitering in certain areas, such as vacant lots, roads, or alleys.  Local laws may vary when defining what is loitering by a minor. 

City ordinances that deal with loitering by minors aim to protect minors from dangers such as exposure to high-crime areas.  Such laws may often overlap heavily with gang loitering ordinances. Violations may lead to a small fine; the parents of the minor may also be found liable if they knowingly allow their child to loiter illegally.

Should I Get an Attorney if Accused of Loitering?

Even though loitering is often a very small violation, you may still want to consult an attorney. For example, you may feel unjustly harassed or were falsely arrested by the police. If this is the case, it is possible to be compensated. Consult with a criminal attorney to learn more about your rights, defenses, and the complicated legal system.