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Trespassing Laws in California

Although most people view trespass as a civil offense, it can also be prosecuted as a criminal offense. This means that both the property owner and the state can bring trespassing charges against you. California law has robust provisions governing trespassing charges in the state.

If you are facing a trespassing charge, it is vital to consult a professional criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. While criminal trespass charges are not often severely punished, they still go on your criminal record. Knowing the law is essential in understanding the possible legal consequences of your actions, which can help you avoid being arrested or harassed unnecessarily.

For more information, you can contact the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney.

What Is Trespassing?

Different actions can constitute trespassing in the state of California. California Penal Code §602 contains several different actions that can constitute trespass. One thing these actions have in common is that they involve entry, occupation, or interference with another person’s property without their consent or the consent of some other authorized person, e.g., their agent.

Unauthorized entry is the most commonly understood aspect of trespassing. However, trespass can also occur even if there is an authorized entry that has been withdrawn. A great example of this is when someone enters a person’s property with their permission, and then the person asks them to leave, and they refuse.

Types of Trespassing

According to the Penal Code, different actions are considered criminal trespass. These acts can be categorized broadly into the following groups:

Trespass on Private Property

This refers to all the actions that may constitute trespassing being committed on property owned by an individual, a group of individuals, or a private corporation. They typically involve unauthorized entering, remaining on land, or interfering with the land or persons within it.

The following are some actions that constitute criminal trespass according to the Code’s provisions on trespass:

  • Cutting down, destroying, or carrying away any wood or timber standing or growing on another person’s property.
  • Entering and occupying or driving a vehicle into someone else’s property or other kind of structure without the consent of the owner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession.
  • Entering, occupying, driving a vehicle into, and refusing to leave someone else’s land, real property, or structures not open to the general public upon being requested to leave by:
    • A peace officer at the request of the owner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession, and upon being informed by the peace officer that they are acting with the requisite authorization.
    • The owner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession.
  • Aggravated trespass – threatening a person with serious bodily injury with the intent that they should be in reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family, and:
  • Unlawfully entering their residence or real property within 30 days of the threat without any lawful purpose but to execute the threat against them.
  • Unlawfully entering their workplace within 30 days of the threat without any lawful purpose but to execute the threat against them. – Penal Code §601

Trespass on Public Lands

Trespassing on public land involves carrying out acts that constitute trespassing in a public building or land that is available for public use. While it could involve unauthorized entry, it most often involves failure to leave the property or acknowledge a trespass sign, destroying the property or something on the property, etc.

The following are actions that constitute public trespass under California law:

  • Digging, taking, or carrying away any earth, soil, or stone from a street, alley, park, or other public places without a license from the proper authorities.
  • Refusing to leave the building or land of a public agency when the building is closed to the public upon being requested by a regularly employed guard, watch person, or custodian of the public agency.
  • Knowingly skiing in an area or on a ski trail that is closed to the public and has signs indicating the closure.
  • Knowingly entering any airport operations area, passenger vessel terminal, or public transit facility if the area has notices restricting access to authorized personnel only.
  • Knowingly entering or remaining in a neonatal unit, maternity ward, or birthing center in a hospital or clinic without lawful business to pursue if the area has a notice restricting access to only those with lawful business.
  • Refusing to submit to screening or inspection procedures in public places like courthouses, airports, passenger vessel terminals, etc.

What Are the Penalties for Trespassing in California?

Most forms of trespass are prosecuted as misdemeanors, attracting imprisonment in county jail for less than a year and a fine of less than $1000. As such, you would want to work with a misdemeanor attorney in Los Angeles if charged with misdemeanor trespass in California.

A first conviction of certain acts of trespass may be prosecuted as an infraction, which typically attracts only a fine of about $100 with no jail term. However, aggravated trespass is a felony. As such, it can attract imprisonment of up to 3 years in county jail. This is in addition to the possibility of a fine not exceeding $2,000.

If you are facing a trespass charge in California, these are some common legal defenses your Van Nuys property crimes attorney may put up in court:

  • Consent: If you can prove that you had the requisite authorization to enter or remain on land, you will not be guilty of trespass.
  • Your action was not willful: A trespasser has to act willfully or knowingly. According to the California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM), willfully means “on purpose.” If you are coerced or forced, or your mental faculty is not under your control, e.g., during sleepwalking, your act cannot be said to be willful.
  • Right to be on the premises: Even if you are not the property owner, you may have the right to be on the property. For example, you have the right to occupy a home you are renting, the premises of your workplace, etc.
  • Law enforcement: Law enforcement officers generally do not need consent from the premises owner to enter if they are going to perform their lawful duty, e.g., to arrest a suspected criminal.

Your California Criminal Trespass Attorneys

Criminal trespass charges may attract severe penalties, especially if they involve other criminal charges. You can reduce the chances of this happening by having a skilled criminal defense attorney defend you in court. Our attorneys at the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney are dedicated to providing top-tier criminal defense representation to clients across California.

With our deep understanding of California criminal law, we do everything we can to get the best possible result for your case. The sooner you contact us, the faster we can help you.

Contact us for a free consultation, and let us discuss how we can help you.

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