You probably have heard about trespassing at one point in your life or found a warning sign indicating that you should not trespass a given property. Most people understand trespassing as unauthorized entry to someone else's property without their permission. Legally, regardless of your intention, an unauthorized entry in someone’s property is considered trespassing.
In California, trespass is a civil crime punishable in both civil and criminal court, which means that you can face charges from the property owner or the state. Such crimes carry a possible jail time and hefty fines based on various factors. If you The best way to fight such charges is by hiring a professional attorney. The law firm of Leah Legal in Los Angeles is capable of taking on such a situation based on their level of experience and responsiveness. Even so, it is essential to learn a few things about trespass crimes in California to follow through your case accordingly.
Legal Definition of Trespass in California
California Penal Code 602 defines trespassing as entry onto the property of another person without permission to do so and with the intent of doing something. The code provides over thirty activities, considered criminal trespass. However, common acts that fall within California trespassing laws include:
- Entering into another person’s property to damage the property
- Entering another person’s property with the intention of obstructing the business activities conducted there
- Entering another person’s property without permission and occupying it
- Entering another person’s property and refusing to leave when asked to do so
There are other activities considered as forms of trespassing under Penal Code 602. These actions include:
- Taking soil from another person’s property without his/her permission
- Taking any shellfish from another person’s land
- Refusal of screening in a public place such as a courthouse or an airport
All the above-stated activities complicate trespassing laws. In that case, there are specific elements of crimes that make up the legal definition of most forms of trespass in California.
Elements of California Trespass
Under Penal Code 602 PC, there are specific elements a prosecutor must prove to court to successfully convict you with a trespass crime. The elements of the crime are as follows:
- You Willfully Entered Someone Else’s Property
Willfully entering someone else's property means that your action was deliberate or on purpose. It does not mean that you intended to break the law per se, but it means you had the intention of carrying on with the trespass. Therefore, wandering into someone’s property without any intention to do something does not count as trespass.
- You had a Specific Intention with the Other Person’s Property
Specific intent explains a particular mental state. This means that you did not specifically intend to do something, but you were consciously aware of the consequences that follow after the act.
- You Interfered with the Property Rights of the Owner of the Property You Entered
The kind of interference considered in this element must consider damaging the property, or interference with the usual activities carried out in a business. Besides, you must have succeeded in your intention to cause interference to satisfy this element.
- You Occupied the Property
This is a common element that applies to California trespass lawsuits. The legal definition of occupying the property is remaining on someone else property continuously for a given time.
Penalties for Trespass in California
Under California laws, trespass can be filed in three different ways based on the circumstances surrounding the crime. These charges include:
Under Penal Code 602 PC, a majority of trespass cases are considered misdemeanors. Misdemeanor cases carry potential penalties, such as:
- Summary probation
- Imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months
- A fine that can amount to $ 1,000
However, particular forms of misdemeanor trespass, like failing to leave the house of a battered woman, carry a potential jail sentence lasting up to a year.
Trespass, as an infraction, is one common type of crime in California. Trespass is considered as an infraction if:
- You entered someone’s else property willfully and
- The land has an enclosure, or there is a signpost warning people from entering the area and is within three or more miles from the land.
Under Penal Code 602.8 PC, such an action is considered an infraction and carries potential penalties such as:
- $75 fine for the first offense
- $250 fine for the second offense on the same land
For a third offense, you will end up being charged with misdemeanor trespass and bear all the penalties that fall in such crimes.
Under Penal Code 601 PC, aggravated or felony trespass occurs when you:
- Make a credible and believable threat or seriously injure someone with the intent of making the person feat for his or her safety or that of his or her family
- Enter the person’s property within 30 days of making a threat on the person owning the property
In California, an aggravated trespass is considered a wobbler, meaning that it can either be regarded as a misdemeanor or a felony. The factors that determine whether it is a misdemeanor or felony include:
- Your criminal history
- The circumstances surrounding your offense
A misdemeanor aggravated felony carries a penalty of jail imprisonment for up to a year or fine that can reach up to $2,000.
If you are charged with an aggravated felony trespass, you risk imprisonment for 16 months, two years or three years in county jail. Alternatively, you can get a felony( formal) probation.
Possibility of Expunging a Trespass Charge from the California Criminal Records
Anyone who faces a trespass conviction in California can have his or her criminal records dismissed under certain circumstances. For instance, if you complete your probation, the judge might consider expunging your charge from the California criminal records.
Even so, the judge might fail to expunge your criminal record if you did not adhere to all the terms provided on your probation.
Legal Defense for California Trespass
Being charged with California trespass does not mean that all hope is lost. You can still get a lesser charge or even walk scot-free if you hire an attorney. Any professional attorney would use relevant legal defenses to ensure that you get a fair trial and ensure that your rights are well-represented. Some of the legal defenses your attorney could use include:
- Claim that You had a Right to be on the Property
Under Penal Code 602 PC, the prosecutor must prove that you had no legal right to be on a property to satisfy the requirements of trespass charges. Therefore, if you had the right to be on the property, the charges do not count as valid. For instance, if being on someone else's property is part of your participation in a labor organization activity, then there is no claim of trespassing in such an instance.
A skilled attorney should help you determine whether participation in activities such as those considered by labor organizations are constitutionally protected activities and protected by the American constitution.
- Argue that You had Consent to be on the Property
It is easier to defend yourself from trespass charges if you can prove that the property owner had initially provided consent to be on his or her property. Such kinds of defenses are ideal when the prosecutor claimed that you unlawfully occupied another person’s property.
However, the defense is invalid if the owner asked you to leave the vicinity of his or her property and refused to do so. In such a case, you might end up criminally liable unless you were participating in a labor organization party or other activities protected by the constitution.
- Claim that You did not Occupy the Property
Under Penal Code 602 PC, there are specific requirements needed to conclude that someone occupied a property. These requirements include:
- Depriving the owner of the property enjoyment of his or her property in some way
- Occupying the property for a substantial period
Therefore, if your charges include a brief stay on someone else's property without his or her permission, then you can argue that you are not guilty of trespass.
- Assert that You Never Obstructed or Interfered with the Activities within the Property
Under Penal Code 604 PC, it is prohibited to enter someone else's property to interfere with the business activities carried out within the property. Therefore, if your unauthorized entry did not obstruct the business activities in any way, you can use this defense to argue that you did not commit criminal trespass.
- Claim that the Land had no Sign Warning Trespassers
Under Penal Code 602.8 entering another person’s property without consent if it is either:
- Enclosed or fenced or
- Marked with a signpost indicating that you should not trespass is considered an infraction.
In such a conviction, you can claim that the property was not fully enclosed, or there was no signpost warning trespassers. In such a case, you might have your charges dismissed by the judge.
- Claim that You had No Intent to interfere with the Property
Because of the element of intending to interfere with the property, failing to have such intent can be a good defense for your trespass charges.
Crimes Related to Trespass in California
Certain charges are filed with or instead of California trespass. Here is an in-depth view of some of the common crimes related to California trespass.
Under Penal Code 594 PC, it is prohibited to damage, deface, or destroy another person’s property. Therefore, any actions that fall within such description are considered as vandalism and attracts different penalties and punishment.
Under California laws, the punishment for vandalism depends on whether the property was worth more or less $ 400. For damages worth less than $400, the crime is a misdemeanor, while those above $ 400 are considered as a wobbler.
California Penal Code 459 PC contains burglary laws. The law applies when one enters someone else's property intending to commit a felony or steal something inside the respective property. Therefore, if you enter another person’s property intending to commit aggravated trespass, you might end up charged with both burglary and aggravated trespass.
However, based on the circumstances of your actions or arrest, the judge can consider your criminal trespass as a lesser offense of a burglary. Therefore, you will end up being punished for only one of the offenses rather than both.
California burglary is a felony when committed to someone else's house and wobbler when committed in another type of structure. The potential punishment for the crime includes a jail sentence ranging from a year for a misdemeanor and up to six years if it is a felony burglary.
If one trespasses another person’s property without consent and steals something from the property, the prosecutor might charge him or her with both trespass and theft crimes. However, the prosecutor determines whether the action was a theft crime based on the circumstances of the offense.
Particular types of domestic violence have connections with criminal trespass. For instance, if you violated California’s Stalking Law ( Penal Code 646.9 PC), there are connections with California trespass charges.
Also, if you violated California’s criminal threats law(Penal Code 422 PC), where you made credible threats to another person, you might be charged along with trespass.
Being charged with either Penal Code 646.9 PC or Penal Code 422 PC means that you illegally entered the premises of another person, which can lead to trespass charges and domestic charges as well.
Using Trespass as a Plea Bargain
For anyone convicted with criminal charges such as domestic violence or burglary, the attorney can use trespass charges in a plea bargain negotiation to reduce the penalties of more severe charges. Trespass is quite reasonable since it does not have a pronounced stigma in social circles and usually carries lesser penalties.
There is a different implication of immigrants’ using trespass in a plea bargain. Such a bargain carries severe consequences on your immigration status because it is considered as a crime with moral turpitude.
However, this does not mean that you can use the plea as a bargain for your criminal charges. There are certain forms of trespass that do not count as moral turpitude. For instance, if you entered a property with the consent of its owner and had no intention of doing any harm, this does not count as a severe trespass offense.
Homeowners Liability for Trespassers Injuries
Under California laws, homeowners have the obligation over anyone within their property, but with their consent. However, if the other person does not have any permission from the owner, he or she is not liable for the injuries that the trespasser sustains. Even so, the law does not provide that the homeowner should willfully injure the trespasser.
Also, if the homeowner is knowledgeable of frequent trespassing, he or she might be liable for the injuries if they were caused by the unsafe condition of the property if:
- The owner is responsible for creating the condition
- The condition had a likelihood of causing severe bodily injuries or death
- The owner believed that the trespasser would not discover the condition
- The owner did not exercise reasonable care to warn trespassers of the condition and the risks associated with it
Liability for Injuries Involving Children
There are different rules when children are involved in trespassing a property. In case children wander to a property due to various items that can lure them to trespass, the homeowner is liable for the injuries that the children will sustain.
The property owner has the responsibility of inspecting the property and check whether it poses any potential danger to the children. Under California laws, the property owner is liable for injuries if he or she knows or should have known:
- Young children would likely trespass the property, and you are aware of the dangerous condition of a property that poses bodily injury to the children
- Young children would not be aware of the risk posed by the dangerous property
- The utility of the property is smaller compared with the threat that it poses
Statute of Limitation for California Trespass Crimes
A statute of limitations is the law that offers the period within which a prosecutor has to file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations for trespass applies under California Civil Code 338(b). The time limit for trespass crimes is three years, starting from the date of arrest or trespass. Therefore, if your prosecutor takes more than three years to file charges to court, the judge will likely dismiss your case since its timeline exceeds the required time limit.
Hire a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Near Me
California’s trespass cases involve many complexities. It can be hard for you to handle such cases without the intervention of a professional criminal defense attorney. You need to engage an attorney with vast experience and a good reputation in the legal industry. We at Leah Legal are the best option to consider if you are in Los Angeles area. Contact us today at 818-484-1100 to talk to one of our attorneys today.