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Loitering seems to have incredibly vague definition, according to Wikipedia. It seems that it's illegal, even if you don't seem to be doing anything wrong. In the US, there are signs to this effect, which came to a surprise to me. Can I actually get into trouble if I, well, loiter, whatever loose definition you use?

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Photo is from personal archive.

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Undoubtedly an interesting question, but what's the link with this site's topic? –  PERSONA NON GRATA Feb 10 '13 at 21:02
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@MarcelC.: He's obviously a tourist who doesn't want to end up arrested for a vague law –  Loren Pechtel Feb 11 '13 at 1:50
    
that specific photo indicates private property (or a government installation, not quite sure how the USPS would be treated) so they can certainly set rules about what you are allowed to do on the site. As a security measure, I'd expect them to try to get rid of people hanging out around the gates and possibly tipping off accomplices about vehicles leaving there that can then be ambushed and robbed elsewhere for example. –  jwenting Feb 11 '13 at 12:08
    
@jwenting: it's hardly the only "No loitering" sign I have seen, and many are without the indication of private property or special security status. –  mindcorrosive Feb 11 '13 at 13:47
    
@mindcorrosive true, but many companies will have reason to not want strangers on their property and after 9/11 many cities and other governments no longer care all that much about what's legal when it comes to "protection against potential terrorists". Just walk around London with a camera and aim it at a police car or underground train, you're in custody and have your camera confiscated very quickly despite there being no law giving anyone rights to do so. –  jwenting Feb 11 '13 at 14:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

It depends what you're doing, where you're doing it, and (from personal experience) whether you look like a member of $racial_minority.

The loitering laws are in place so that the police can ask you for ID if they think you may be doing something illegal. For example, someone "loitering" on a parking lot can be looking for cars to break into. However, if you're stopped by an officer in the parking lot, show them your ID, and then tell them that you're looking for your car because you're not used to such immense parking lots, not only will all be fine, they may even help you figure out where you parked.

A Florida lawyer explains that

You can charged with loitering or prowling, if you are in a place and at a time where normal, law-abiding citizens are not commonly found and which could be construed as posing a threat to property or to others. If you are discovered by a police officer who asks you to identify yourself and you refuse, or you try to conceal your presence, or you immediately flee the scene, the officer may have grounds to charge you with loitering since you did not adequately justify your presence at the location.

Thus, as long as you can identify yourself, you should do fine as a tourist, since you can always justify your presence with "I'm so glad to see you, officer. I'm totally lost". Note that won't work quite as well if you're in a tent where they don't want you to be camping

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Yup. I've had an encounter with a policeman that way--hanging around a construction site after dark. A construction site (a whole subdivision, not just one house) after dark is roads devoid of cars--a perfect place to let a new driver get practice safely. He understood, no problem. –  Loren Pechtel Feb 11 '13 at 1:53
    
@LorenPechtel A large parking lot is just as effective and safer for the car. :) –  Karlson Feb 12 '13 at 15:42
    
@Karlson: Of course you start with the parking lot. However, parking lots lack streets. The construction site provided a more realistic driving situation. There were multiple blocks worth of territory with nothing of importance about. –  Loren Pechtel Feb 13 '13 at 3:10
    
@LorenPechtel And you even got to practise being pulled over by the cops! –  David Richerby Dec 17 at 14:40

In America, they don't want people to do anything that disrupts commercial activity. So begging is "out" for example.

If you are in a store, you should be doing business with the store (or look like you are). Stores, and even libraries don't want people sleeping on the premises, or otherwise taking up space if you are not there for the stated purpose of the premise because they want to cater to genuine "customers." That also applies to places like construction sites.

In Nevada, it is a FELONY to use a computer in a casino to calculate odds (thereby reducing the casino's advantage). Not exactly "loitering," but it does illustrate a point about the "pro-commercial" nature of the American legal system.

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This doesn't answer the question, which is about the consequences of loitering, not about whether you can sleep in a store or library or use a computer in a casino. –  David Richerby Dec 17 at 14:42
    
@DavidRicherby: If using a computer in a casino, a FELONY, doesn't get you arrested, I don't know what will. And when I talk about begging or other disrupting commercial activity being "out," I'm really talking about the possibility of your getting arrested. That should be clear from the context. –  Tom Au Dec 17 at 15:05

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