Property owners of all kinds, be it an individual or a municipality, have a right to freedom from trespassers on their property. In a densely populated state such as California, this freedom is often threatened. Under California law, it is a chargeable offense to knowingly and intentionally enter onto property or land you do not own without the owner or possessor's consent, to include failing to leave the property after being asked. California's criminal trespass law, under Penal Code § 602, covers a wide range of activities that may result in a trespassing charge. Under this statute, entering a property with the intent to interfere with the operation of a business or act of commerce, squatting on property you do not or no longer have a right to inhabit, entering onto airport grounds, meddling with airport security efforts or otherwise interfering with airport functions, removing monuments or statues, destroying or causing damage to agricultural plots, cutting down trees or removing vegetation from other people's property, and occupying a piece of property for the purpose of intimidating its occupant are all chargeable offenses. Criminal trespassing in California is generally charged as a misdemeanor. If charged with a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing, you will typically face up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Some minor forms of trespassing may result in just an infraction under California Penal Code § 602.8(a), rather than a misdemeanor criminal charge. For example, if you knowingly entered onto someone else's property and that property had either a fence enclosing it or a sign explicitly prohibiting trespassing, you could receive an infraction and face a fine of $75 for a first offense or $250 for a second offense. However, for a third offense on the same land, you will face a misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine and potentially jail time. More aggressive and/or violent forms of trespassing can result in a felony charge. For example, if you threaten to harm someone and then enter onto his or her property and refuse to leave, you may face a felony trespassing charge. If charged with a felony charge of trespassing, you could face up to three years in a state prison.
It is important to consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney right away if you are facing criminal trespassing charges. There may be a valid legal defense that you can raise. Different forms of trespassing will require that different elements be proven for you to be convicted. A skilled criminal defense attorney will be able to assess your case and advise you on what defenses you may be able to employ. For example, if you really did have consent to be on the property, you cannot be charged with criminal trespassing, however you may have been arrested if you were found on someone else's property and they were not there to attest to your permission to be there. For certain kinds of trespassing, there must be a sign explicitly prohibiting trespassing or fence to prevent trespassing. In absence of one of these elements, you cannot be cited with trespassing. For other forms of trespassing, you must intentionally enter and occupy the property for your act to be considered trespassing. If you were simply passing through in this scenario, you have a strong legal defense in court. Similarly, if you were unaware you were on someone else's property, and thus did not intentionally enter the property without permission, you cannot be charged with trespassing. However, proving you were not occupying the property, but rather were simply passing through, can be challenging. Similarly, proving you did not willingly and intentionally trespass may take some legal skill. Property laws can be complex and may make the determination of whose land you were on and for what purposes challenging. Make sure you have experienced representation when approaching your trespassing charge defense to give yourself the best chance at a favorable outcome.
If you are facing trespassing charges in Tulare, Kings or Fresno counties, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can help. Experienced in criminal defense, attorney Christopher Martens can fight aggressively for you to ensure you are charged fairly and justly based on correct facts. Attorney Christopher Martens has taken over 50 criminal cases to trial and is prepared to do the same for you. Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss your options for defending your case.