Unlawful Activities and Trespass at the U.S. Capitol

Trespassing in restricted areas, impeding the duties of the Capitol Police, and obstructing Congressional business carry federal penalties.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated July 22, 2022

Threats to the security and safety of the U.S. Capitol are not taken lightly. Trespassing in restricted areas, impeding the duties of the Capitol Police and obstructing Congressional business all carry federal consequences.

The U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Capitol stands as a "monument to the American people and their government." A symbol of democracy, it serves multiple, imperative roles. The U.S. Capitol houses both chambers of Congress—the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives—the federal lawmaking bodies. It also serves as a platform for citizen's freedom of speech and right to protest.

To allow these important roles to coexist, peaceful protestors and visitors are welcome in designated areas of the U.S. Capitol building and grounds. But activities that harm government business or property or threaten the safety of officials, staff, or the public are illegal under federal law.

Trespassing and Unlawful Activities at the U.S. Capitol: Crimes and Penalties

Federal law provides misdemeanor and felony penalties for trespassing and unlawful activities occurring in Capitol buildings and on Capitol grounds. These acts range from unlawful entry to discharging weapons.

Misdemeanor Offenses

A person who knowingly commits the following acts faces up to six months' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine:

  • enters or remains on the floor or in the gallery of the U.S. Senate or House chambers without authorization
  • obstructs or impedes passage through or within the Capitol building or grounds
  • parades, pickets, or demonstrates in a Capitol building
  • damages or destroys property in Capitol buildings or on Capitol grounds, or
  • assaults an individual in a Capitol building or on Capitol grounds.

Felony Offenses

The penalties increase to a class E felony—punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine—for the following violations involving weapons, force, or violence:

  • carrying, having readily accessible, discharging, or transporting any firearm, dangerous weapon, or explosive on in Capitol buildings or on Capitol grounds, or
  • with force or violence, entering or remaining on the floor of either chamber.

The potential imprisonment doubles if the violation occurs in any area cordoned off or restricted due to the presence of the President, Vice President, President-elect, or Vice President-elect.

(18 U.S.C. § 1752; 40 U.S.C. §§ 5104, 5109 (2022).)

Obstruction of Duties Performed by Capitol Police: Crime and Penalty

Capitol Police are charged with policing and protecting the U.S. Capitol buildings and grounds and members of Congress. Any person who knowingly and willfully obstructs, resists, or interferes with a member of the Capitol Police engaged in their duties commits a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year's imprisonment and a $300 fine.

(2 U.S.C. §§ 1961, 1966 (2022).)

Obstruction of Congressional Proceedings: Crimes and Penalties

Criminal penalties also apply to disruption and obstruction of official Congressional business.

Misdemeanors. Misdemeanor penalties apply to acts that intentionally disrupt Congressional business on the House or Senate floor or in any committee or hearing held by either or both chambers. Such acts include unauthorized entry or trespass within the Capitol buildings, as well as engaging in loud, threatening, disruptive, or abusive language or conduct. A conviction can result in up to six months' imprisonment.

Felonies. A person who corruptly or by threats or force obstructs or impedes a Congressional proceeding faces up to five years in prison. If the act involved domestic terrorism (acts that appear to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion), the penalty increases to an eight-year felony and up to a $250,000 fine.

(18 U.S.C. §§ 1505, 2331 (2022).)

Talk to a Lawyer

The crimes mentioned in this article are violations of federal, not state, law and are handled in federal court. If you have questions regarding these laws, contact a criminal defense attorney who practices in federal court.

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