Perhaps you have heard of the word trespass or seen a warning sign against trespassing on a property. California recognizes the sanctity of private land, structures, or real property, which is why PEN 602 criminalizes unlawful entry or occupying somebody else’s property without permission or the right to do so. If you face trespass or any other property crime charge, our Los Angeles Criminal Attorney team is eager to contest the counts for you.

General View of Trespass

PEN 602 refers to trespass as entry into or staying in property belonging to another party without the person’s knowledge, consent, or right. From this definition, you can easily assume that trespassing means unlawful entry to another person’s land or real property. However, the law requires you to display some intent. Accidentally wandering onto somebody’s land will not attract civil action or criminal charges, but disobeying a “no trespassing” sign on private land or structure demonstrates intent. The intention of entering the property could be to commit a crime like vandalism or invade privacy.

Similarly, trespass can be defined as refusing to leave a structure, land, or real estate property legally occupied by another person or closed to the general public upon being requested to leave by a peace officer, property owner, agent, or individual with rightful possession of the property. The peace officer must act on the property owner’s, the owner’s agent's request, or the request of the party rightfully occupying the land or structure.

Statutory Examples of Trespass

PC 602 has many situations that amount to criminal trespass. Some of the instances when the prosecutor will charge you with criminal trespass are:

  • Entering land belonging to another person where shellfish or oysters are growing and taking the shellfish from the property without a license or consent from the legal occupant or land owner.
  • Digging or carrying soil or stone from any land located within an incorporated city without permission from the lot owner or individual with legal occupation.
  • Felling or destroying wood planted or growing on someone else’s land

You will face trespass charges when you find the door of a garage open and spend your night there with a sleeping bag without the knowledge or consent of the garage owner.

A simple action like spotting a picnic table on private land while hiking and deciding to rest there will also amount to criminal trespass. The reason for the charges is that you willfully used the table without knowledge or consent from the owner. Nonetheless, even if your actions amount to trespass, you are less likely to face the charges if, at the time of accessing or resting on the table, you did not cause any damage. If the table is damaged, you will face a count of trespassing.

In other instances, you will face trespass charges even without having to cause property damage. For example, you are driving through Los Angeles and spot an undeveloped lot and stop to look. In the process, you realize the land is appropriate for camping and pitch your tent there for several days. The prosecutor can charge you with trespass even if you do not damage the property during your stay.

The law allows individuals to engage in legal protests. As much as it is your moral obligation to protest against particular unacceptable practices, especially by private companies, you will be charged with trespassing if you interfere with the company's daily operations at the time of protest. Nevertheless, you will not be arrested for trespassing if you protest outside the company gate and do not interfere with employees or clients.

Criminal Trespass Elements

There are several instances when you can face counts for trespass, making the crime complex. The facts of your case are based on the situation that led to the charges. Primarily, trespass involves three crucial elements which are:

  1. Willfully or Purposefully Entering Another Person’s Land or Structure

One critical element the prosecutor must demonstrate to the court is that you entered the lot or structure willfully, deliberately, or purposefully. It does not necessarily mean you wanted to engage in criminal activity. Nonetheless, it means you planned on gaining illegal access to the land or engaging in the conduct that led to the crime.

Also, the law requires that you be in a specific mental state. The prosecutor demonstrates you possessed clear intent by showing the court you planned your action and deliberately knew of the penalties of your deeds.

For instance, you are homeless and have always desired to eat in a luxury hotel in Los Angeles. After several days of saving money, you finally have enough to go to the hotel for your favorite meal. You visit the hotel and order the meal. Sadly, your odor and appearance drive several clients out of the hotel. Although you intentionally entered the restaurant, you had no specific intent of pushing people away or hindering business activities, meaning you are not guilty of trespass.

  1. You Damaged Property or Interfered With Business Rights

 Also, to be guilty of trespass, you must cause property damage or impede normal business activities. If you intended to damage property or inhibit normal operations but failed, you are not guilty. However, if you succeeded in your plans to disrupt normal operations, you are guilty.

For example, you are a chef in a restaurant, and your manager unfairly terminates you. Out of anger and for revenge, you stand outside the restaurant door, and every time a customer walks in, you whisper to them that the food served in the place is not safe for consumption because you have been a chef in the hotel for some time and know how it is prepared.

When the customers think you are deranged and ignore your warning against the eatery, you are not guilty of trespass because you did not interfere with business, despite your actions being intended to do so. Nonetheless, if some clients heed your warning and walk away, you will face trespass charges as you impede normal business activities.

  1. Occupying Property

For PEN 602, occupying property means staying continuously in a private lot, structure, or real property for a particular duration.

For instance, you are hiking and, in the process, see a private land suitable for camping. You camp there overnight, but the following day as you leave, the land owner or legal occupant finds you and reports you to the police for trespassing. Under these circumstances, you will not be guilty of trespass because you only occupied the property for a night.

You run the risk of being charged with and found guilty of trespassing if you camp on the property for months in the hope that no one will notice you because you did so without the landowner's knowledge or permission and prevented the rightful owner from enjoying it.

California Trespass Penalties

Typically, trespass is charged as an infraction, misdemeanor, or, in rare cases, a felony. When you intentionally enter another party's property or structure with an enclosure or warning sign within at least three miles of the lot warning against trespassing, the offense is reported as an infraction. PEN 602 deems this kind of action an infraction, and when found guilty, you pay $75 in court fines for a first offense. A $250 court fine is imposed upon a second conviction. If you commit the offense three times, the prosecutor will charge it as a misdemeanor rather than an infraction.

Misdemeanor Sentence

Most trespassing offenses are filed as misdemeanors. When sentenced, you will face the following:

  • Summary or informal probation
  • County jail incarceration for at most six months
  • A financial court fine of $1,000

The court imposes the monetary court fine in place of or alongside a jail sentence.

In your case, the presence of particular circumstances can attract a longer sentence of 12 months. For example, your spouse flees home to seek shelter in a house for battered women. You find out where she is and go to the house to try to find her. Nonetheless, the person in charge of the place asks you to leave, but you decline. Because you do not have consent from the manager to be at the shelter, you could be arrested for trespassing. You will face a longer jail sentence of at most twelve months if charged and convicted for the offense under these circumstances.

Felony Trespass Punishments

The prosecutor can charge you with felony trespass, also called aggravated trespass. It happens when you make a credible threat to severely harm another person to the extent that the individual fears for their safety and that of their immediate family. Additionally, within thirty days of the credible threats, you enter the person’s real property, structure, or land.

Under these circumstances, criminal trespass is a wobbler. The prosecutor can choose to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor. Their decision hinges on your criminal record and the case’s facts.

Possible sentences for misdemeanor aggravated trespass include 12 months or less in prison. In lieu of or instead of jail incarceration, the court can impose a monetary fine of up to $2,000

However, if charged as a felony, a conviction for aggravated trespass is harshly punished. You risk prison incarceration for 16, 24, or 36 months. Then again, the court can impose formal probation instead of a prison sentence.

Criminal Record Expunction

In addition to the criminal penalties for trespassing, a conviction will result in a criminal record, which will have serious consequences in many aspects of your life. The record will be visible to the public, and anyone who runs a background check on you will see that you have been previously convicted. This will deny you many lifetime opportunities and many life challenges.

For instance, having a criminal record will hurt your chances of being hired or promoted. Employers do not trust people with a criminal history, which can be a basis for denying you a job opportunity. Also, even if you are remorseful for your previous conduct, a landlord will likely refuse you a lease agreement because of your criminal history.

Additionally, colleges steer clear of applicants with criminal backgrounds. Your career aspirations can be effectively crushed if you are denied college admission due to your trespassing conviction. Also, if you are a professional license holder, a sentence could make it challenging to renew the permit.

A previous sentence will haunt you in the future, hence the need to work hard to delete the record from the public view. This is possible through an expunction, where only a few government authorities and not the public can access your criminal record. When a prospective employer or landlord asks about your criminal history, you can confidently respond that you have never been convicted, thanks to expungement, which conceals your record from the general public.

If you serve out your jail or probation sentence, your trespassing conviction will be erased from your record. Your attorney submits the petition to the court. The prosecutor overseeing the case you want to expunge is informed of your desire and given some time to respond. They can choose to challenge the expunction or not. After that, the court sets a hearing date to determine whether to grant or deny an expunction.

Defeating Criminal Trespass Charges

A conviction for trespassing will affect many aspects of your life, even after you have completed the sentence. Therefore, you should try your best to prevent a conviction. A defense lawyer from Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can help you achieve this by guiding you through the court procedure and creating strong defense plans to thwart trespass charges. The defenses that will be used depending on how you were apprehended and which code section you are accused of breaking. The common legal defenses for trespass are:

  1. You Had a Right to Enter or Occupy the Land or Structure

PEN 602 requires the prosecutor to show you had no legal right to be in the building or lot to earn a conviction. So, you cannot be found guilty if you were on the land or in the structure legally. You can argue that you offered legal labor when you were arrested for trespassing. Your Los Angeles Criminal Attorney attorney will explain whether participating in labor organization activities is constitutionally protected.

As an illustration, imagine you are a labor union representative and hear rumors about an employer using inhumane working conditions. You visit the company to protest against illegal labor practices. The property owner asks you to leave, but you refuse. Under these circumstances, even if the owner calls the police on you for trespassing, the court will not find you guilty because you visited the site in the capacity of a labor union representative, giving you the right to be on the premises.

  1. You Had Permission From the Land or Real Property Owner

If your PEN 602 violation charges are based on being on someone’s property without permission, you can claim that the owner gave consent. Even if the landowner allows you to enter or stay on their property, but you overstay, you will still be innocent of trespassing charges.

However, if, after the owner permitted you to enter the structure or property, they asked you to leave, but you refused, you will be criminally liable for trespass unless you were engaging in a constitutionally protected activity. 

  1. You Never Stayed or Remained on the Land or Premises

PC 602 requires two elements to prove that you occupied or stayed in a lot or premises without consent. The prosecutor must first prove that you deprived the landowner of its enjoyment for an extended period of time. Therefore, if you were charged with trespassing for briefly staying on another person’s land or structure without their knowledge or right to do so, your attorney can assert that you are innocent of the charges.

  1. You Did not Interfere With or Obstruct Business Activities on a Premises

Trespassing frequently involves entering a business location or other real estate and purposefully interfering with or disrupting regular operations. The prosecutor can only obtain a conviction if they can demonstrate that you were successful in disrupting business activities. You are not guilty of trespass if you did not succeed in your intentions or if the illegal entry did not impede regular business operations.

You can also contend that even though they objected to your behavior, it did not interfere with their activities. Until you directly hinder the performance of activities like standing at the entrance and preventing clients from accessing the premise, you are innocent of trespass.

  1. The Land Was Unfenced, and There Were No Signs Warning Against Trespass

You face charges for a PC 602.8 violation when you enter a fenced or enclosed lot with a sign prohibiting trespass. Under these circumstances, the prosecutor will charge you with an infraction. Still, you can avoid conviction by asserting that there was no warning sign against trespassers or that the land was not enclosed.

Lastly, the timeline for bringing trespass charges against you in California is three years from the date of your apprehension or property crime. When the prosecutor takes more than the thirty-six months provided under the law to file charges, your attorney can raise the issue of the statute of limitations to have the judge dismiss the case, even if you engaged in the alleged conduct.

Related Offenses

Particular offenses can be filed alongside or instead of trespass. These are:

PEN 594, Vandalism

Penal Code 594 prohibits you from damaging, defacing, or destroying private property. When you engage in any of these acts while trespassing, you could face two charges; trespass and vandalism.

If the value of the vandalized property is less than $400, the offense is a misdemeanor. However, if the damaged property is valued at least $400, the crime is a wobbler.

PEN 459, Burglary 

Per PC 459, burglary is defined as the entry onto private property with the intent to commit a crime or steal once there. Thus, the prosecutor will file burglary and trespass charges against you if you enter someone else's property with the intent to commit a felony trespass.

However, your lawyer at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can use the trespassing charge as a plea bargain to lessen the harsh consequences of a burglary conviction. Trespassing is a lesser offense has a slight social stigma and carries less strict penalties than burglary.

Pleading guilty to trespass as a lesser crime during plea negotiations can have negative consequences if you are an immigrant. Trespass is a crime of moral turpitude and, therefore, can have you deemed deportable or inadmissible. However, not all forms of trespass are offenses of moral turpitude. Your behavior will not qualify as moral turpitude if you accidentally cause harm while committing a minor trespass offense like entering someone's property with permission. You can use trespass as a plea bargain.

To determine if your trespass charge constitutes an offense of moral turpitude, speak with your attorney first. If it is not, you can use trespass as a plea bargain when charged with burglary.

When a burglary occurs in an inhabited home, it is a felony. However, if the offense occurs in any other structure, it is a wobbler. Misdemeanor burglary attracts no more than 12 months in jail, while a felony is punishable by a prison sentence of at most six years.

Theft Offense

You will be charged with trespass and theft if you enter someone else's property or home without permission and take something valuable while there. While occupying someone’s land or premises, your conduct determines whether you committed a theft offense.

Other offenses that can be charged alongside or instead of trespass are stalking and criminal threats. If you are stalking a former partner or spouse, you will likely enter their premises or land without consent, which attracts trespass charges.

Criminal threats under PC 422 also involve breaking into someone else's property without that person's permission. Under these circumstances, the prosecutor can charge you with PEN 422 violations and trespass.

Find an Experienced Property Crimes Attorney Near Me

Trespassing is frequently charged as a misdemeanor or infraction, which only results in minor court fines or brief jail sentences if convicted. However, the circumstances surrounding each case are different, and you could face felony charges, which are harshly punished. Therefore, if you have been charged with trespassing, you want to talk to an experienced legal expert to understand your options and protect your freedom. We are eager to represent you at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. Call us today at 424-333-0943 for a zero-obligation consultation.