The meaning of trespass changes from one person to another. While to some individuals, trespass means stepping on areas with ‘No Trespassing signs,’ to others, it means entering commercial premises, loitering, and leaving without buying anything. Per California law, trespassing means willfully entering someone else’s property intending to interfere with the owner’s property rights.
If arrested for a trespassing crime under Penal Code 602, the prosecution could press misdemeanor or felony charges. You could fight trespassing charges with the help of a criminal defense lawyer. You want to hire a reputable lawyer to help build strong defenses against the prosecutor’s and plaintiff’s pieces of evidence.
At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have experienced attorneys ready to help you have your charges lowered or dismissed. If you or your loved one faces trespassing charges, talk to us today.
Definition of the Crime Of Trespassing Per Penal Code 602
California Penal Code 602 PC penalizes trespassing crimes. With related Penal Code sections, PC 602 describes various acts that the law considers trespass. California trespassing laws prohibited the following actions:
- Walking on another person’s property intending to cause property damage.
- Walking on another person’s property intending to obstruct or interfere with the business’s operations.
- Entering and staying on someone else’s property without consent.
- Refusing to leave someone else’s property after you are asked to do so.
Other specific actions considered trespass crimes in California are:
- Refusing to undergo screening at a courthouse or an airport.
- Harvesting fish from someone else’s pond without permission.
- Harvesting sand or stones from another person’s land without consent.
California trespass crime definition is complicated because of these many definitions. However, the law provides specific crime elements that make legal trespass definitions. In California, you don’t have to break into and enter someone else’s premises for you to face a trespass charge.
Elements of Trespass Crimes
Elements refer to the fact that the prosecutions must prove before the court could convict you for an offense. Trespass crime elements are:
- You willfully entered another person’s property.
- Your specific intent was interfering with someone else’s property rights.
- You interfered with the person’s rights. Interference could mean damaging property or interfering with the owner’s business.
Below are the descriptions of these elements:
The word ‘willfully’ refers to a deliberate action or doing something on purpose. A deliberate action does not mean that you intend to commit a crime. ‘Willfully’ means that you intended to do the action you performed.
Experts suggest that ‘specific intent’ is a particular state of mind. When you act with a specific intent, you specifically intend the outcome of your action.
Example: Kelvin is homeless and living on the streets. He walks into an expensive coffee lounge and buys a sandwich with the proceeds of begging. Many customers walk out of the lounge because of Kelvin’s bad odor and worn-out clothes.
Kelvin walked into the lounge, and his presence interfered with the business. If the owner pressed trespass charges against Kelvin, the court could not convict him because his specific intent was to eat, not interfere with the business operations.
Interference to Property Rights or Business
The court cannot convict you for the two forms of trespass - damaging another person’s property or interfering with the property or business - until the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the actual damages or interference happened. So if you walk on the property intending to cause damage or interfere with business activities but did not succeed, the court cannot convict you of trespass.
Example 1: Helen, a farmworkers’ rights activist, visits an agricultural show to issue leaflets sensitizing the farm workers' treatment. She hands out leaflets to visitors walking around, viewing different agricultural produce and farming machinery. Visitors have the jurisdiction to avoid her and keep viewing the products.
The police arrest Helen shortly after beginning to give visitors the leaflets. However, the court finds her not guilty of a PC 602 violation. Even if she intended to disrupt the activities at the show, she did not do so as the visitors could ignore her if they wished so.
Example 2: Caroline pitches a tent in a mall’s parking area to collect signatures for a petition. She does this without the permission of the mall’s management. The police arrested Caroline because her tent distracted shoppers from entering and moving out of the mall. The court found Caroline guilty of trespassing because her tent interfered with access to private property.
Occupying someone else’s property in California without their permission is considered trespassing. In this context, occupying property means remaining on another person’s property longer than expected.
Example 1. James and his three friends, Sally, John, and Mathew, drive to a private ranch without the owner’s consent and camp there overnight. The owner finds the four friends on the ranch and calls the police on them. James and his friends are not guilty of trespass as they camped on the ranch for only one night.
Example 2. James and his three friends drive to a private ranch without the owner’s permission, erect a temporary cabin house, and stay there for three months. In this context, the four friends are guilty of trespass because they remained on the property for a long time.
Possible Punishment for Trespassing in California
California trespassing crimes could be charged as infractions, misdemeanor offenses, and in rare cases, felony crimes. In California, a misdemeanor is a less serious criminal offense than a felony.
A trespass conviction can result in many different penalties, including:
- Fines – You may be required to pay a fine if you are convicted of trespassing. The fine amount will depend on the severity of the offense and whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
- Probation – You may be placed on probation if you are convicted of trespassing. Probation typically lasts for one to three years and includes regular check-ins with a probation officer, obeying all laws, and attending counseling or classes.
- Jail or prison time – You may be sentenced to jail or prison if convicted of trespassing. The amount of time you will serve will depend on the severity of the offense and whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Misdemeanor Trespass, Penal Code 602 PC
The penalties for a misdemeanor trespass include summary probation, jail time not exceeding six months, and a fine of up to $1,000. However, specific misdemeanor trespasses attract county jail sentences of up to one year.
Trespass as an Infraction, Penal Code 602.8 PC
The prosecution could charge you with an infraction under PC 602.8 if:
- You willfully entered another person’s land without their consent.
- The land is fenced or bears ‘no trespassing’ posters approximately one to three miles apart.
If found guilty, possible punishment could be:
- A fine that does not exceed $75 for a first crime.
- A find that does not exceed $250 for a second crime on the same property.
You are charged with a misdemeanor trespass for a third trespass crime on the same land.
“Aggravated” (Felony) Trespass, Penal Code 601 PC
California aggravated criminal trespass is a special trespass form under PC 601. Aggravated felony happens when you:
When you threaten to seriously injure someone else by making them fear for their safety or their loved ones.
Enter your victim’s home or workplace intending to execute the threat within 30 days after threatening them.
Under California law, aggravated trespass is considered a wobbler. The prosecution could charge you with a misdemeanor offense or felony offense. Your charges depend on the circumstances surrounding your crime and your criminal history.
A trespass conviction can also have many collateral consequences, such as:
- Difficulty finding a job.
- Difficulty renting an apartment.
- Loss of professional licenses.
- Ineligibility for government benefits.
- Deportation (for non-U.S. citizens).
If found guilty of violating PC 601 as a misdemeanor, possible penalties are a fine not exceeding $2000 or a jail term not exceeding one year. If you face aggravated trespass charges as felony criminal charges, you could spend time in jail for 16 months, two years, or three years. The court could also sentence you to formal/ felony probation.
Expungement of your criminal record after a trespass conviction
In many cases, trespass charges can be dismissed or expunged. If your charge is dismissed, it will be as if the incident never happened, and you will not have a criminal record. If your charge is expunged, it will also be removed from your criminal record. To get your trespassing charge dismissed, you will need to complete a diversion program. Diversion programs are designed to provide first-time offenders with an opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction.
If you complete the program, your charge will be dismissed. If you are granted probation for your trespass conviction, you will not have a criminal record. Once you complete probation, the court will automatically dismiss the charges against you, and you will not have a criminal record. However, if you are granted probation for your trespass conviction and later violate your probation, the court may revoke your probation and sentence you to jail or prison.
If you are not granted probation or violate your probation and are sentenced to jail or prison, you will have a criminal record. However, you may still be eligible to have your criminal record sealed or expunged after completing your sentence. To get your trespassing charge expunged, you will need to wait a certain amount of time after completing your case and then file a petition with the court. If the court grants your petition, your charge will be expunged from your criminal record.
Your criminal defense lawyer can help you determine if you are eligible to get your criminal record sealed or expunged. Also, the judge has the jurisdiction to expunge your criminal record if you violate probation terms.
If you have been charged with trespassing, it is important to consult with an experienced Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can review your case and help you determine whether you are eligible for a dismissal or an expungement.
Fighting a Trespass Charge in a California Court
There are many possible defenses to a trespassing charge. Even though it appears like you are guilty of a California trespass offense, you should not worry. Many defendants are wrongfully charged for trespassing even though they had zero intentions of violating the Penal Code. An experienced defense lawyer could help you build a strong defense to have your charge dismissed or lowered. Some of the most common include:
You Did Not Intend To Trespass
To be guilty of trespassing, you must have intended to enter or remain on the property unlawfully. If you accidentally strayed onto someone else’s property or had a good faith belief that you were authorized to be there, you may have a defense to the charge.
You Were Invited Onto The Property
If the owner of the property or someone with authority over the property (such as a tenant) invites you onto the property, you cannot be charged with trespassing.
The Property/ Land Was Not Enclosed/ Signed
As mentioned above, you could face charges for trespass as an infraction for entering someone else’s property without permission of the property:
- Is it enclosed or fenced.
- Have ‘no trespassing’ signs mounted at specific intervals? The standard interval is three kilometers from one interval to the next.
In some cases, the property is not fully fenced, or signs are not placed on the property. If you are charged, you could have your charges dismissed.
The Property Was Open To The Public
You could not be charged with trespassing if you were on property open to the public, such as a park or a sidewalk.
You Did Not Enter The Property
You can only be convicted of trespassing if you entered the property. If you never set foot on the property, you cannot be convicted of trespassing. For the court to convict you of ‘occupying’ as a form of trespass, you must have:
- Deprived the proprietor of the enjoyment or use of their property.
- Deprived the property owner of the use of their property for a significant period.
Therefore, if you face trespass charges for occupying someone else’s property without their consent, you could argue in court that you are innocent because you did not enter nor occupy the property.
The Owner Of The Property Consented To Your Presence
If the property owner permitted you to be there, you could not be charged with trespassing. If you face charges for ‘occupying’ someone else’s property without consent, you could prove that you are innocent if you initially had permission from the owner to enter the property.
If you entered the property with permission, then occupied it for a significant period without permission, the court cannot find you guilty under PC 602. But if the property owner wanted you to leave, you should have left to avoid criminal liability. The only reason you can stay in is to engage in constitutionally protected and labor organizing activities.
You Were Exercising Your Constitutional Rights
You cannot be charged with trespassing if you engage in constitutionally protected activity, such as picketing or protesting. Under California law, the court cannot convict you for trespassing if you exercise your legal rights. For example, you are on another person’s property to partake in labor organizing or lawful union activity.
Example: Martin is a construction worker’s union representative. Martin enters an ongoing construction site to assess safety conditions and does not leave even after several requests from the landowner. Martin cannot face conviction if charged with trespassing because his work gives him a constitutional right to enter the property.
Consult your lawyer to know if you had a legal right to be on the land since you were performing constitutionally protected areas. For instance, free expressions are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
You Did Not Interfere with or Obstruct Activities on the Property
If you face charges for a PC 602 violation, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you obstructed or interfered with the activities on the property. If you did not obstruct the activities, the court could not convict you of criminal trespass. Actions that the property owner dislikes cannot make you guilty of trespass. The prosecution must prove that your action caused interference with and obstruction of the business.
Offenses Related To Trespass
The prosecution could charge California trespassing crime together with particular offenses, including:
Penal Code 459 PC, Burglary
You commit burglary when you enter another person’s property with intentions to commit a felony or petty theft once inside. For instance, you could face charges for burglary and aggravated trespass if you enter someone else’s property intending to violate PC 601 aggravated trespass.
However, hanging on the circumstance surrounding your arrest, the court could lower your charges from burglary to criminal trespass charges. Also, the court can convict you for only one offense, not both. You will face felony burglary if you commit burglary in another person’s house. Your crime becomes a wobbler if you commit burglary in any other structure.
If found guilty, you could serve time in jail, from one year for a burglary committed in structures other than homes or six years incarceration for felony burglary.
Penal Code 594 PC, Vandalism
You commit vandalism under PC 594 when you destroy, damage, or deface another person’s property. If you vandalize another person’s property when you are on that property illegally, the prosecution could charge you with vandalism and trespassing.
The court punishes you depending on the property value that was damaged. In California, vandalism is a misdemeanor if the property value is below $400. But the crime becomes a wobbler if the value of the property damaged is worth $400 or more.
California Theft Crimes
If you commit a trespassing crime by entering someone else’s property and stealing an item while on that property, the prosecution could charge you with trespass and a California theft offense. The precise circumstances of the crime could determine which theft offense, for instance, petty theft or grand theft applies.
California Domestic Violence Offenses
The prosecutor charges many domestic violence crimes in California together with criminal trespass. For instance:
- PC 649.9 prohibits stalking that involves threatening or harassing someone else to the extent that they fear for their safety and their loved ones.
- PC 422 punishes criminal threats that involve making credible, violent threats against someone else.
Stalking crime is among the many domestic violence offenses that the prosecution could charge together with trespass offenses. If you face charges for any three offenses and enter someone else’s workplace or house, you could face trespass and domestic violence charges.
Example: Grace has been stalking and threatening her ex-lover, Ken. Grace visits Ken’s house often, even if Ken asks his ex-girlfriend not to visit his house. Grace threatens to stab Ken during one visit if he doesn’t accept her back.
Owing to these facts, the prosecution could charge Grace with California trespass or aggravated trespass should Grace go back to execute the threat, stalking under PC 645.9, and criminal threats under PC 422.
Trespass As A Plea Bargain
It could make sense for a lawyer to take a plea bargain. Trespass as a plea bargain could replace domestic violence or burglary charges. Fortunately for you, a trespass charge:
- Does not involve as much social stigma on criminal records as more serious crimes.
- Attracts less severe punishment.
Consequences of a Trespass Plea on Your Immigration Status
If you are not a US citizen, you should be careful when negotiating a plea bargain. The law considers trespass a crime involving moral turpitude when you commit the crime:
- Intending to damage another person’s property or property rights.
- Intending to interfere with the business’s operation.
Offenses of moral turpitude could attract severe consequences for your immigration status. However, this does not suggest that, as a non-citizen, you should not negotiate a plea bargain against a trespass charge.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you face trespassing charges in California, it’s important to understand the law and your rights. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you build strong defenses and protect your rights. At the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have many years of experience defending facing trespass charges. Contact our attorneys today for more information at 951-946-6366.