Entering someone else's property and refusing to leave can be charged as criminal trespass in California. Criminal trespass that interferes with the landowner's rights can be charged as a misdemeanor, with fines and possible jail time. When someone is falsely accused or accidentally walks across someone's property, they should not be penalized with a criminal record. Talk to your experienced East Bay criminal defense attorney to understand your rights.
California Criminal Trespass Statute Under PC 602
Under California Penal Code Section 602, anyone who willfully commits a trespass is guilty of a misdemeanor. Criminal trespass generally involves entering upon the land or structure owned by another person without permission and refusing to leave.
This can include both private property owned by an individual, business property, or even government property not open to the public. Trespassing can be done on foot, by bike, or by driving a vehicle onto private property.
Even if someone has entered property legally, when the property owner or owner's agent requests the individual to leave the property, the individual has to leave the property or he or she may be committing a criminal trespass.
Taking Items Off Someone's Land is Trespassing
Going onto someone's property and taking a bike is generally theft. However, most people are unaware that taking things like dirt, rocks, or tree branches off someone's property is considered a type of trespass. Under PC 602, trespass includes taking the following items from the lands of another:
- Wood or timber;
- Earth, soil, or stone;
- Road signs;
- Oysters or shellfish; or
Penalties for Trespassing in California
Criminal trespass is generally a misdemeanor offense. The penalties for a conviction for most types of criminal trespass can include up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $100. A second offense is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
However, some types of trespass may be charged as a “violation,” subject to a fine but not jail time. Under California Penal Code Section 602.8, trespassing on land without the landowner's permission (without being told to leave or destroying property) is a public offense punishable by a fine of up to $75. A second offense could result in a fine of up to $250. A third offense is a misdemeanor.
In addition to any criminal charges, the landowner can file a civil lawsuit against the trespasser for any damage done to the property. A trespasser may have to pay an award to the landowner for the value of anything taken or the cost to repair any damage.
In some situations, trespass can be a felony. Aggravated trespass can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony offense. Under California Penal Code Section 601, aggravated trespass involves making a credible threat to injure someone, and within 30 days of making the threat, entering the person's property or workplace.
The penalties for aggravated trespass depend on if the crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. As a misdemeanor, the penalties include up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
As a felony, the penalties can include up to 3 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. A felony conviction can also impact an individual's rights after serving their time, including not being able to own or possess a firearm in California.
Trespass after making a threat can be related to stalking offenses in California. Stalking generally involves repeated following or harassment and making a credible threat with the intent to place someone in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or for the safety of his or her immediate family.
Felony trespassing generally involves workplace or domestic disputes. For example, if someone is fired from their job and threatens another coworker when leaving the property and later returns to the workplace, the individual may be charged with felony trespassing.
Trespassing Can Lead to More Serious Charges
Trespassing may not seem like a serious crime, especially if someone accidentally ended up on someone's property. However, someone who might be charged with trespassing may end up facing more serious charges, including burglary.
If someone has some tools in their possession, including common items like a screwdriver or pliers, the police may try and accuse the individual of attempted burglary. The prosecutor may use this tactic to try and get the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge by threatening a more serious charge. Talk to your California criminal defense lawyer about how you can fight against criminal charges instead of taking a plea deal.
Defenses to Trespassing Charges
There are a number of possible defenses to trespassing charges. In some cases, there is no actual evidence of any trespass. A property owner may claim someone entered their property and would not leave without any evidence. Some property owners may also be mistaken about their own property line. If the only evidence is the property owner's testimony, an experienced attorney can challenge the reliability of the property owner's statements.
Another defense to trespassing is where the individual had permission to be on the property. The defendant could have been given permission by someone they believed to be the property owner. In some cases, someone can enter private property for a limited purpose, like lawful service of process.
There are a number of possible legal defenses to trespassing and aggravated trespass charges. Talk to your experienced Alameda criminal defense attorney about the best defenses available to fight against a criminal conviction in your case.
If charged with aggravated trespassing, it may be a defense if the defendant never made a credible threat. The defendant may have been making a joke or someone took a statement out of context.
East Bay Criminal Trespass Attorney
East Bay lawyer Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience defending her clients facing criminal charges, including trespassing. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success. If you or a loved one is facing criminal trespass charges in Alameda or Contra Costa County, contact East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney Lynn Gorelick.