As seen in Ohio Transit Risk Pool’s May 2020 newsletter
Can an unruly passenger be charged with trespassing for refusing to heed a driver’s request to leave a public bus? In a recent decision, the Second District Court of Appeals answers “yes.” On February 14, 2019, a Springfield City Area Transit (“SCAT”) bus picked up a passenger, Gilbert, and his service dog. The SCAT bus is able to lower itself to ease the ingress/egress of passengers. Gilbert became upset when the bus raised back up before he was seated. Gilbert started arguing yelling at the bus driver and refused to sit down. The bus driver told Gilbert that he could either sit down or get off the bus. Gilbert refused to sit down or get off the bus. The police were dispatched to the bus. The police attempted to defuse the situation, but Gilbert refused to sit down or get off the bus unless a supervisor arrived. The police arrested Gilbert for trespassing and resisting arrest.
The trial court dismissed both charges. The trial court held that a person cannot be charged with criminal trespass for refusing to get off a bus because a bus does not fit within the definition of “land or premises” under the criminal trespass statute. The Court of Appeals disagreed. In State of Ohio v. Gilbert, 2nd Dist. No. 2019-CA-64, 2020-Ohio-1641, the Court held that the definition of “land or premises” includes the word “place.” A reasonable and ordinary interpretation of the word “place” includes a vehicle. Consequently, the trial court erred in dismissing the trespass charge on the basis that a public bus is not a “place.”
Handling unruly and uncooperative passengers is part of the job for public transportation drivers. If a passenger will not follow the directions of a bus driver, he or she must leave the bus. The Gilbert decision permits criminal charges for trespass if the passenger refuses to leave the bus. In other words, a direction from a driver to leave the bus has the force of law behind it.