In California, trespassing can be both a civil and criminal offense. This means that you can be sued by a private citizen for trespassing on their property and you can face criminal charges from the state.
If you are charged with the crime of trespassing you can face serious criminal consequences. A conviction for trespassing will not only result in some kind of criminal penalty – including possible jail time and/or fines – but will also result in a mark on your criminal record. Hiring an experienced criminal lawyer is the best way to fight any criminal charges you may face.
What is Criminal Trespassing?
California’s criminal trespassing laws can be found in Penal Code 602 PC. The law itself is considerably broad and can be applied in many situations.
Generally, however, it is a crime of trespassing to intentionally enter and/or remain on another person’s property without permission or a legal right. Penal Code 602 PC lists several examples of conduct that would be considered criminal trespassing. These include:
- Entering and occupying property or structures of another person without consent of the owner;
- Entering property of another person for the purpose of injuring property or interfering with the owner’s property rights;
- Entering any fenced or enclosed property with posted “no trespassing” signs without the owner’s permission and (a) refusing to leave upon request, (b) destroying anything on the property, or (c) picking a lock or gate to enter the property;
- Driving a vehicle on property not open to the public;
- Tearing down fences or enclosures to enter property without the consent of the owner;
- Cutting down, destroying, or injuring wood or timber on another person’s property; and
- Carrying away wood or timber from another person’s property.
This list is not exhaustive, but merely instructive. What exactly will the prosecution have to prove in order to convict you for criminal trespassing? There are different types of criminal trespass, but they all have similar elements. The prosecution will be required to prove that you are guilty of each essential element of the crime that you are accused of committing. A conviction for criminal trespass will require proving that you:
- Willfully entered land or a building belonging to another person without consent;
- After entering, you occupied the land without the consent of the owner; and
- You continued to occupy some part of the land or property until you were removed.
Alternatively, the prosecutor can argue that you had the specific intent to interfere with the property in some way. This interference could involve destruction or theft. Actions you take that would prohibit a property owner from fully enjoying that property could be considered criminal interference.
What are the Penalties for Criminal Trespassing in California?
Criminal trespassing is generally an infraction or a misdemeanor offense. This means that a conviction carries a possible minimum sentence of a $100 fine and a possible maximum sentence of one year in jail and/or a fine of no more than $1,000.
The charge can be aggravated under Penal Code 601 PC if you make a credible threat of bodily harm to someone on the property and return within 30 days with the intent to carry out that threat. Aggravated trespass can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. This means that aggravated trespass carries a possible minimum sentence of one year in jail and a possible maximum sentence of three years in prison.
How Can I Beat A Trespassing Charge in California?
If you are accused of criminal trespass it does not automatically mean that you will be convicted. You can beat a trespassing charge by arguing certain defenses. Defenses to criminal trespass include:
- You had the permission and/or consent of the property owner when you entered the property;
- You had legal authority to be on the property;
- You owned the property you are accused of trespassing on;
- The property was not marked with appropriate “no trespassing” signed; and
- You did not actually occupy the property.
If you have been accused of trespassing in California you contact and speak with a criminal defense attorney in your local area. Hiring an attorney is the best way to beat a criminal trespassing charge. Contact our Los Angeles office today to schedule your free consultation.