A person’s private property is held in high regard and protected under California law. It is essential to ensure that all citizens own and manage their property without worrying about trespassers. In the process that one’s property is accessed without permission from the owner, there is a legal framework to obtain redress. While accessing someone else’s property without consent and infringing their rights is a crime, you have a right to defend yourself against trespassing charges to avoid imprisonment and hefty fines.
The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is commited to assist you in finding expert representation and justice in trespass charges in a Los Angeles court. It is on the premise that your right to seek and obtain legal representation is also protected under California law as an accused person. We have pinpointed in detail the various definitions and elements of trespass charges to help you grasp this crime and receive assistance if you or your loved ones face prosecution.
General Understanding of Trespass Under California Law
Section 602 of the Penal Code is the principal law that covers trespass. And while there are over thirty different rules defining trespass, they are attuned to similar essential elements. As per this law, it is assumed one is in contravention and guilty of criminal trespass if he/she enters on another's property or remains on the said property without any permission to be there. The property in question can be held privately, publicly, or even as a government establishment that is out of bounds to the general public.
Further, it is against the law to enter one’s property and act in a way that is out rightly bothersome and disturbing, curtailing the use of such property or refusing to vacate. However, it is essential to mention that criminal trespass legally must involve some form of intent from the accused. It means that you can be arrested and charged for these crimes if you intentionally and willfully trespassed on one’s property, circumstances that the prosecution must prove in a court of law.
Under this statute, the California state protects property owners’ right to conduct their business seamlessly without unwarranted interference. It is considered both a civil and criminal offense to commit these crimes with examples listed below:
- Accessing another person’s property intending to destroy it
- Even after being asked to leave the property, you adamantly refuse and continue occupying or being on the said property.
- Without any consent, accessing one’s property, and illegally occupying it.
- Entering into a property owner’s place of business to obstruct or cause interference to the everyday running of the business
For instance, an officer of the law points out to a man on government land marked out of bounds that he needs to leave, as it is against the law to be on the property. The man objects to vacate and becomes rowdy to the officer. He may be arrested and prosecuted for trespassing and occupying forbidden premises.
There are other specific and more direct ways through which one can contravene trespass laws. Such may include but not limited to;
- Accessing and cutting down plantations standing on another person’s property without their consent
- Picking stones, soil, or any earth from another person's property, carting it away without any consent from the owner.
- Taking away shellfish or oysters growing on another person’s property or injuring and interfering with their growth whether they are immersed in water or not without being licensed by the owner to do so
- Accessing one’s garage that is waste, sleeping there severally in your sleeping bag without permission from the owner or;
- Issuing threats to rough up your ex-girlfriend, then later on accessing her premise and conducting yourself violently towards her
From these two scenarios, it is evident that the laws that pertain to trespass are complex, and you might be in contravention unknowingly. Therefore Owners' right is vital to understand the specific elements that the prosecution must prove to secure a conviction.
Specific Elements the Prosecutor Must Prove before Your Conviction
The prosecution must point out specific facts that form the “elements” of criminal trespass charges. The team’s task is to prove that you are guilty before a conviction is made. The three elements are as follows;
- That as the defendant, you willfully accessed another person’s property
- That you Specifically and intentionally acted in a manner that suggested interference with the rights of the owner
- You proceeded to interfere by obstructing, destroying, or damaging the said property, thus curtailing the owner's rights to his/her property
To have some in-depth grasp of the above elements, let us bring each to focus and define the underlying specific considerations that the prosecution will prove;
You Entered Someone’s Property Willfully
“Willfully” simply stands for acting on purpose or being deliberate. It, however, doesn’t mean that you intended to break the law. It implies that you aimed at doing what you did intentionally.
You Specifically and Intentionally Acted in a Manner that Suggested Interference with the Rights of the Property Owner
To have “specific intent” boils down to one’s mental state. Therefore, one acting with “specific intent” isn’t doing so to simply do the act but also to realize the consequences associated with his actions. For instance, Greg is destitute and spends his entire day begging from strangers. He doesn’t make much on any day and is unable to purchase clothes and dress appropriately. As a result, his clothes are in tartars, he has developed an awful stench, and in most cases, people don’t look at him twice.
On a given day, Greg collects a few coins and decides that he needs a Hotdog from the flashy restaurant at the far end of the street, frequented by classy and well-off patrons. He enters the restaurant, orders his meal, and proceeds to eat unbothered, but his presence offends the other revelers, and they leave hastily, thus driving away business from the restaurant.
In this scenario, Greg entered the eatery deliberately, but he didn't contravene the law by committing criminal trespass. Therefore, he cannot face conviction as he had no specific intention of disrupting or driving away business from the eatery. And while Greg’s action of entering the restaurant was a disruption, he had no willful intent of doing so, as he simply wanted to have a meal.
You Proceeded to Interfere Through Obstruction, Destruction, or Destroying of the said Property or Business.
If you accessed the property but never actually destroyed it or hardly interfered with regular business, you may not face a criminal trespass conviction. Aptly put, if you intended to access the property solely to destroy, interfere with, or obstruct business but failed in your attempt, you cannot be held liable and convicted for trespass crimes under PC 602.
You Were Occupying the said Property.
In the State of California, you may face prosecution for criminal trespass if you “occupy” one’s property without obtaining consent to do so from the owner. In this particular case, “occupy” is defined as a prolonged stay on another person’s property. This form of trespass is the one mostly prosecuted in California. However, suppose that a group of party lovers access a part of the beach and hold a night-long party with no consent from the owner. In that case, they may not be convicted for criminal trespass, as their occupancy was only for a single night.
While being found accidentally on the property may not constitute the offense’s severity, you may face trespass related charges such as burglary if found with tools like screwdrivers or scissors. The prosecution might cite this possession as evidence that you committed burglary and threaten to charge you with this extreme offense’s severity. Important to note is those specific elements of the case underscore its seriousness. It determines whether to stand a conviction for an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony offense under the California laws that govern trespass crimes, all of which attract different penalties.
Consequences and Penalties for Violating PC 602
While most of the offenses cited under Penal Code 602 that governs criminal trespass are considered misdemeanors, the prosecution may put together a case that would have you charged further. Therefore, it groups all the offenses under three categories, namely, misdemeanor offenses, infractions, or in some limited cases, aggravated felony charges.
Misdemeanor Trespass per PC 602
Misdemeanor trespass carries the bulk of most criminal trespass charges. Potential penalties for this type of offense may include misdemeanor probation, being put in the county jail for a period not exceeding six months, or fined not more than $1,000. You might be placed in prison for up to a year if asked to vacate a premise, and you refuse.
Infraction Trespass per PC 602.8
An infraction is the simplest form in which the prosecution charges most of California’s criminal trespass offenses. For the trial to constitute infraction charges, there have to be specific circumstances such as the ones below:
- That you entered someone’s property willfully and without any consent
- The property in question had a fence/hedge or had signs indicating “no trespassing” hanged at certain intervals of three per mile or less.
If found in violation, penalties include a fine of a maximum of $75 for first offenders and up to $250 if you are a second offender found on that particular property or land. If, however, you are a third offender on that same piece of land, you may face misdemeanor offenses.
Aggravated Felony Trespass as Per PC 601
Under very unique and specific circumstances, you may face the charge of “aggravated” felony trespass under California laws. The prosecution is mandated to prove the following aspects;
- That there existed credible and believable threats of seriously causing injury to another person
- That the threats resulted in the victim fearing for their personal safety and that of their family
- That you entered the victim’s property within thirty days, intentionally to carry on with the threats.
These threats could have been made orally, textually, electronically, or even behaviorally by openly showing such patterns.
Considered a wobbler under the law, Penal Code 601 grants the prosecution power to prosecute you for misdemeanor offenses or felony offenses, concerning your past criminal record with specific circumstances related to your case. You may be sentenced for up to a year behind bars if prosecuted under this law for a misdemeanor offense or fined not more than $2,000. For a felony offense, you may be jailed for up to sixteen months, two years, and at times, even three years. You may as well face felony probation for the same offenses.
Expungement of Trespass Criminal Record
If convicted of trespass offenses and sent on probation in California, you may stand a chance to apply for and receive the expungement of your crimes. It penalties will only be possible if you complete your probation period. Failure to stick to guidelines set out in your probation may lead to a denial of the expungement.
Importantly, however, you do not need to despair when faced with criminal trespass charges or prosecution, as there exist workable legal defenses your criminal defense attorney can exploit to assist you.
Legal Defenses for Trespass Charges
An experienced legal attorney has different approaches and defenses that can be successfully exploited to help you find justice in a court of law. In most cases, many times, people are wrongfully arrested and prosecuted for criminal trespass and related offenses. You have a right to access the best representation to ensure that you are either acquitted or face lesser penalties for these crimes.
As discussed above, the prosecution has the burden of proof to the effect that you willfully accessed someone's property; you had specific intent to infringe on the owner's property rights, and; you infringed on those rights. Without proving beyond a reasonable doubt these three grounds, the prosecution can’t secure a conviction against you successfully.
Below are some definite lines of arguments that the criminal defense attorney can use to bring down the case mounted against you, using facts and circumstances surrounding your particular case.
You were Exercising your Right
If you rightly were on the property, you can’t be held accountable for criminal trespassing. Commonly, the right to be on one’s property legally is in a scenario where you are a participant in a labor organization or union activity on the premises. Further, with a skilled attorney, it is possible to prove that you were on the premises because you were taking part in “constitutionally protected” activities by the U.S constitution in the First Amendment. Such activities may include the right to free expression.
You were Permitted to Access the Property
The prosecution might charge you with "occupying" one's property illegally. You can prove that initially, the property owner permitted you to be on the property. In this case, you may have a case dismissal. It means that you were initially consented to be on the property, but later on, you "occupied" (stayed on the property longer). You cannot be accused and prosecuted for criminal trespassing.
If the owner can prove that he or she requested you to vacate the property, you may face prosecution. The only exception is when you remained on the property because you were protected constitutionally or involved in labor or union activity organizing.
You weren’t “Occupying” the Property.
To be accused of “occupying” one’s property, it must be proven that you actually, in a way, infringed on the owner’s right to use the property, and you did so in a protracted period. Therefore, if you face prosecution for criminal trespass, you can argue that you didn’t “occupy” the property, even if you were on the property without their permission.
You Never Actually Obstructed Activities on the Property, neither did you Interfere with Normal Running of Business.
If charged under PC 602 that prohibits one from entering intentionally to interfere with business on one’s property, the prosecution must prove that you did obstruct or interfere with business. If you never obstructed or interfered with the said property, you cannot be prosecuted for criminal trespass. If the activities were merely considered unwarranted by the owner, but never resulted in actual interference and obstruction to his business, then your innocence can be proven.
The Property or Land did not have any Notice Barring Access and was not Enclosed.
As earlier noted, you can face criminal trespass charges in California as per section 602.8 of the Penal Code for entering one’s property without their permission. You would also be charged if the land/property was enclosed with a fence or had clear signs marked with “no trespassing” at specific intervals. The interval has to be not less than a mile from each other and should be on the whole property perimeter and at any roads that lead to the property.
Your legal defense team may argue that the property wasn’t fenced off, or was partially fenced or that the signs weren’t at the specified intervals where they ought to be or weren’t visible. All these arguments may enable you to be acquitted and the charges dropped.
No Evidence and Proof that you Trespassed
In some cases, the property owner may, by mistake, say that you were on his property illegally and press charges against you without proving that indeed it was you or that you trespassed. If the only evidence provided by the prosecution is the property owner’s testimony, then a skilled criminal defense attorney may argue against the reliability of such a testimony.
You had no idea that You Were Trespassing.
Based on the specific circumstances and the irrefutable facts surrounding the case, your legal team can argue in your defense that you did not know that you were on the property without permission. It may be argued that you never willfully or intentionally access the property. This argument line will only hold if the property in question wasn’t fenced off or enclosed and did not have any signs barring access.
Under section 601 of the Penal Code that would enable the prosecution to accuse and charge you of felony trespassing, it would be argued that you had no intention of seeing to the end of the threats you issued. Further, you may say that the threats weren’t meant to instill fear and scorn in the victim nor cause them to fear for their life or their loved one's safety.
Related Offenses to Trespass Violations
Some common offenses are closely related to trespassing and are usually charged alongside criminal trespass in California. These are;
Burglary under PC 459
Entering one's property to commit a felony by engaging in petty theft may have you prosecuted for burglary under California law. For instance, you can be prosecuted for aggravated trespass with burglary if you violate Penal Code 601 as per the law. In some cases, you may face charges for one or both offenses depending on the case’s facts and circumstances.
Vandalism under PC 594
Suppose you are arrested for vandalizing, defacing, or destroying one's property while on the property in question illegally; you may stand accused and prosecuted for vandalism and criminal trespass. As a misdemeanor, vandalism will attract a penalty if the property vandalized is below $400 and is a wobbler when the property is more than $400.
You may face charges if you enter one's property in contravention of Penal Code 602 and steal something on the premises. You may face grand or petty theft charges depending on the circumstances surrounding the case.
It is against the law to harass or threaten someone, causing the victim to fear or create threats considered credible, as per PC 646.9 and PC 422. You may face charges for criminal trespass and domestic violence charges if you violate the laws mentioned above while on another person's property.
Find a Trespass Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
In case you or your loved ones are accused of trespassing, do not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney has handled and stood in defense on behalf of criminal trespass defendants for many years. We are devoted help you and assist you in the best way possible by expertly defending you in a Los Angeles court. Do not hesitate to call us at 310-564-2605 to speak to one of our attorneys and receive expert legal advice.
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